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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

The Ins and Outs of Athletic Recruitment

Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

I was a competitive tennis player growing up and throughout high school. As in, I played tennis nearly everyday of my life from age eight to seventeen. As my junior year of high school progressed, I faced many of the same questions that a lot of competitive athletes face: what’s next? Am I going to continue to play in college?

I talked with coaches, did the research, and thought about it for a long time. In truth, I wasn’t sure my heart was fully in it, and I worried that the intensity of college tennis would sour a sport that I had loved for so long. Ultimately, my talent level more or less made the decision for me as I simply wasn’t the caliber of player necessary to play at the kind of colleges I wanted to attend.

So that’s why I am always interested in working with students who are working on that same question, should I play collegiate sports? And if that answer is yes, how do I navigate this process? That's also why I was so excited to co-host our webinar this week, The Ins and Outs of Athletic Recruitment with Ricky Thrash, the Director of New Student-Athlete Recruitment and Transition Programs at Vanderbilt University. Ricky and I had the pleasure of working together for many years in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Vanderbilt. I consider him a great friend and a fantastic resource on collegiate athletics and the recruiting process.

Our webinars are normally available exclusively for families that are members of our Stress Free Scholars community, an online community of parents committed to finding healthier ways for their teenagers to navigate the college admissions process. But given the wider interest in this session, we made it open to the public.

Here’s some of my favorite takeaways:

The commitment is real

Playing collegiate sports is a whole new level of commitment and you need to be honest with yourself about whether you really want that as a part of your college experience. That means team meals, study tables, and of course practices, training, and games. Your coach will expect a considerable amount of your time. This of course can be a positive thing, as you know, idle hands and such. There are significant studies and research dedicated to student involvement. Astin’s theory of student involvement demonstrates that students who are involved in co-curricular activities (not just athletics) are more likely to stay in school, succeed academically, graduate, and more likely to be connected to the institution as alumni. Many people default to wanting to continue to play their sport without really thinking through the lived experience of it all. What is it really like to play your sport in college? Talk to people who did. That is knowable information.

Lean on local

Your high school and club coach can be a significant resource and you should be having consistent and early conversations with them about your interest in playing in college. College coaches have vast networks of coaching colleagues with whom they engage when identifying talent for recruiting. Be wary of online recruiting services, as many of them simply do not deliver on their significant promises.

Focus on the environment

It is tempting to look at wins and loses, championships won, and individual awards as a measure of success for a collegiate program, but Thrash made a vitally important recommendation that really hit home for me: it is all about finding a nurturing environment. You have to keep in mind that you are not just evolving as an athlete in college, your growth trajectory as a person accelerates significantly too, as you navigate the early stages of adulthood. Find a college that focuses resources and has a track record of providing for academic opportunities as well as the well-being (physical and mental) of their student-athletes.

College Athletics is full of people like Ricky

I live in SEC country here in Nashville, Tennessee, which means we hear a lot about college sports, like a lot. And with the news that the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas have been invited to join the Southeastern Conference, there is a lot of chatter about the big business nature of collegiate sports. But what I know, and what everyone on the webinar this week got to see, was how much Ricky cares for students at Vanderbilt whether they are athletes or non-athlete (the latter having the nickname of NARP or Non-Athlete Regular People - who knew?). You can hear Ricky’s heart throughout our chat and it reflects how much support and care goes into supporting student-athletes at colleges like Vanderbilt. There is a reason that people like Ricky work for colleges as coaches, faculty, and staff, and it’s the same reason we do what we do: you get to help amazing young people, accomplish incredible things, and in so doing, they change the world for the better.

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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