03 May Go Where You’ll Play
Transitioning to a new country and a new athletic environment is challenging for any student-athlete. Homesickness is common in the first semester while trying to adjust to a new normal. This can be especially compounded by not securing a position within the team’s starting line-up. Not playing right away can elicit feelings of self-doubt, amplify pressure on performance, and deny a student-athlete one of the most integral parts of the US college experience. Chances are, if you are not competing and traveling away with the team to tournaments/games, you won’t be enjoying your college experience. Therefore, it is vitally important in the recruiting process to choose a college and a division where you are confident that you’ll play.
So how do you determine your best fit college/division?
This can be a difficult question to answer for most recruits who have never experienced the level of competition in the US. The best way to gauge where you fit is by looking closely at other student-athletes from your home country that are currently in college. Research these athletes’ backgrounds prior to college and look specifically at: what teams/clubs did they play for; what was the highest level they competed at; what representative teams did they make; what position/s did they play; and what were their PBs in high school. Once you have this information, then look at their statistics in college: what college/division are they competing at; are they in their team’s starting line-up; are they getting any playing time and, if so, how many minutes; and what is their team’s win-loss record. By answering these questions, it will enable you to draw a comparison to the level you are competing at in high school and understand how that might translate into the US college system. No two athletes are the same and there are many factors that go into a coach’s decision to recruit one athlete over another, but this approach can give you a broad idea of where you might find your right athletic fit.
Most prospective student-athletes come into the recruiting process attracted to the bright lights, bells, and whistles of the most renowned NCAA Division 1 colleges. This is understandable given these are the colleges that are most featured in the media and in popular culture. But Division 1 colleges are the best fit for very few student-athletes – usually those that compete in high school at a national and/or international level. Ultimately, college will only serve your athletic development if you are competing. Signing with a college program which competes above your level is not a productive endeavour if it means you will sit on the bench for four years.
One of the most common reasons a student-athlete will transfer after their first year is due to limited playing time. This situation can be avoided by doing your due diligence in the recruiting process. It is vitally important to ask each coach you meet with about their expectations for athletic performance, what markers need to be met to secure playing time, and where the coach sees you fitting within the team’s line up. Research the background of every player on the team prior to college and watch as much game footage of the team as there is available. Be smart and realistic in determining if your level matches the starting players in the team.
It is far more favourable to join a program in which you are an integral member to the team’s success. Consistent playing time gives you an opportunity to showcase your skills, accrue impressive statistics, and contend for conference, regional and national accolades. If after one or two years you are in a position where you feel you have outgrown the level of the team, you will be in a positive position to transfer to another college. It is also likely that your performance, individual statistics, and video highlights will have attracted interest from coaches at higher level programs. The best reason to transfer is always up and never down. Keep this front of mind during the recruiting process and be smart and strategic about your choices – your future self will thank you for it!