Why Student Athletes Transfer From Their First College Choice

The college world of sports is changing daily. Today, there is more pressure placed on athletes, with more time spent practicing and playing their sport, more demands placed on them for speaking at public appearances, more time away from their families and social lives, and more time away from academics.

The recruiting process has also changed. There is very little time spent by college coaches or high school athletes to find a good fit for both parties. The process is rushed. Games are played by both sides in order to keep cards close to the vest. As you might imagine, honesty is not always what leads the process.

To sum up: the recruiting process is extremely challenging.

This is partially why the college transfer portal numbers are staggering. The NCAA established the transfer portal in 2018 because the numbers were already getting out of hand, and it was difficult to monitor the situation.

It doesn’t matter which sport, gender, or level. Athletes are transferring at higher and higher numbers every year.

Why is this happening, and what can be done to avoid becoming a number in that portal?

Reasons Athletes Transfer

There are many reasons athletes find that their first college choice was not the right one. Below is a short list:

  • The college wasn’t the right fit.
  • The college wasn’t what was expected.
  • It was harder than expected.
  • The coaches lied about her role, playing time, the path toward graduation, etc.
  • The academic side was too hard.
  • She got injured.
  • She didn’t like being far from home.
  • Her parent became ill.
  • She was homesick.
  • She had playing-time issues.
  • She suffered abuse from a coach.
  • The campus was unsafe.
  • There were pandemic issues.
  • She didn’t get along with the team.
  • Her fifth-year eligibility was in issue.

These are just some of the many challenges that college student-athletes face.

All college students, regardless of being a student or a student-athlete, will face challenges that really push them out of their comfort zones. If the student can prepare for these challenges while still in high school, the adjustment to college life will be much easier.

Challenges will happen. Preparing for them is key to avoiding the long list of transfers.

Female from sideview with hands over face crying

Unforeseeable Challenges

First, let’s address the challenges that are out of the student athletes’ control. Some of these could be life events that take their twist and turns, usually unexpectedly.

  • A family member becomes ill or passes.
  • She suffers a career-ending injury or illness.
  • A tragedy occurs on campus.
  • A pandemic strikes.
  • College becomes too expensive.

Many times it is difficult to navigate these, but, when your daughter is seventeen- to twenty-two-years-old, these obstacles become even more difficult to address and handle.

For some, the only path forward is to leave college, quit altogether for the time being, or choose to go somewhere else.

In these cases, it is understandable that a college student would look for other options.

However, transferring to another college is not always the best solution.

Foreseeable Challenges

Different from the unforeseeable challenges are those that could have been overcome or avoided with the right preparation.

College Is Hard

The first thing to understand as a family is that college is really hard. The student is going to be told things she has never been told before, and she is going to be asked to do things she has never been asked to do before.

For example, she will be told she is not good enough, not fast enough, and not strong enough and that she must sit the bench. This will probably be a new situation for her. Talking to her about these challenges will help her enter college without a blindfold over her eyes.

She will be told to jump higher, lift heavier weights, run faster, work out for longer hours, and train for most of the year. The games and competitions will be short in number compared to the hours she will be training.

She will be asked to give more time to her sport, but not to let her academics fall as a result. She will be asked to sacrifice her family, friends, and social life all in the name of her sport. She will miss things, and it will be hard.

She will be asked to work out mornings, afternoons, evenings, on weekends, and over holidays. Notice I said “work out,” not play in competitions, although that will happen, too (just much less than she would like).

Mom and Dad sitting on couch with daughter looking at laptop computer

It Begins With the Recruiting Process

To understand college is to understand the recruiting process because that is where it all begins. If students made the recruiting process a priority, their success, productivity, and happiness in college would increase tremendously.

That doesn’t mean it is easy, but it does mean that they will be prepared and ready for what lies ahead, both in the recruiting process and when they transition into that first year of college.

The Approach

She should approach the recruiting process with her mind and eyes wide open. She needs to allow the process to work for her and not against her. This takes a recruiting plan.

The Plan

She should sit down and plan out what her process looks like for her. She should really dive into who she is and what she wants out of this journey. This takes practice and good guidance.

The Choices

It’s important to highlight that every single decision made regarding her recruiting journey is critically important. Steps skipped or rushed through will have consequences later in the process and on into college.

The Research

Good research is usually the step that is the most rushed. It begins late, and it usually doesn’t finish. Decisions are made regardless. Again, the consequences will show up eventually.

The Decision

Many times the decision on where to attend college is finalized without the student understanding who she is and what she wants, and everything from plan-to-decision is a blur.

She usually feels good that her process is over, and not because she is confident that she found the right place for her. The process is just finished, and she doesn’t have to rush around and worry about it any longer. She finds that relief, but it might only just be for a while.Female athlete box training and jumping up onto box

After a Commitment Is Made

After the commitment on where to attend college is made, the work is not over. The preparation continues, and it is just as important as when she first began the process of going to college.

It takes time and energy to understand how she should approach college and what skills she will need to develop to be successful. Some of that work can be learned through conversations with folks that know what she will face. Some of that knowledge lies in dealing with how to handle failures and setbacks.

Living uncomfortably, and differently, from her first 17 years of life, this is what she will face.

College Coaches Are Human 

College coaches have a huge job. First and foremost, they must win. Then they must also keep their student-athletes eligible and out of trouble, get people to attend their games, promote their programs, recruit new talent, and try to keep everyone on the team, on the staff, and all of boosters, administrators, and public happy. That’s a difficult task. I can say that from personal experience.

They really don’t want their athletes to be in the transfer portal. They want them to be successful and happy in college. But they also want the hearts and souls of every athlete invested in their programs.

When problems arise, they want athletes to talk to them. They want to help athletes get issues worked out, but usually communication does not happen and walls are built.

What happens next? The transfer portal.

To avoid the portal, your daughter must give her recruiting process her undivided attention, work ethic, research, loyalty, and perseverance.

When that part of your journey is finished, she should apply the same due diligence to her transition into college. And when she’s a college student-athlete, well into her college career, she has to give that same effort to the college she made a commitment to.

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