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Making the Jump to College Athletics: 5 Myths & Realities

Making the Jump to College Athletics: 5 Myths & Realities

By Dr. Chris Stankovich, published on March 10, 2017


Student athletes wishing to one day play their sport at the college level are often left confused by the myths and realities of college athletics.  Already an exclusive group (only around 5% of all high school athletes will have the opportunity to play college sports), most high school student athletes (and their parents) have little idea what to expect until they begin the life as a college student athlete.  Is it really like a job?  Will I still be the best player on the team?  Or will I be the worst?  And what about academic support, will there be helpful resources or will I be left to figure it all out?  These are just a few of the common questions I talk to families about at my office.

This week I would like to offer my thoughts on a few of the most common topics of discussion pertaining to the myths and realities of college athletics.

•Most college athletes are on “full-rides.”  While it is true that some student athletes do earn full-ride scholarships, many do not.  In fact, depending on the sport, some student athletes receive partial scholarships from athletics that are relatively small (in fact, in many of these cases academic scholarships offer equal, and sometimes more support).  Also, keep in mind that some student athletes walk-on (meaning they play voluntarily), while student athletes at the D-III level are ineligible for athletic scholarship money.

•Only less talented athletes red-shirt.  The reality is that student athletes red-shirt for a variety of reasons, including physical/emotional maturity, grades, team composition, or other unique concerns.  Often taking a red-shirt year allows the student athlete to “learn the ropes” being a collegiate student athlete, setting the student up for future success.  As you can see talent is just one of the reasons a student athlete might red-shirt at college.

•College athletics are akin to having a full-time job.  There has definitely been a seismic shift with respect to the intensity of college athletics in recent years, including at the D-III level.  At the D-I level, revenue sports like football and basketball bring in millions of dollars, and in some cases so much money that they support other sports and programs.  Student athletes are held accountable for practice, game travel, study table, classes, diet and exercise routines, and countless additional obligations and opportunities.  Clearly an argument can be made that college athletics are very much like having a full-time job.

•At the college level, everybody is good.  This is hardly a myth, as nearly every college athlete was previously a star at his or her respective high school.  In fact, one of the biggest sources of stress for incoming freshman student athletes is adjusting to the faster college game played by very talented student athletes.  In order to excel at the college level, student athletes must learn to develop strong coping skills to deal with the transitional stress that often accompanies the jump from high school to college.

•The travel commitments can be overwhelming.  This is another generally true statement, as it is common for student athletes to experience long bus rides, extended time away from school/home, and sleeping in hotel rooms that aren’t always the most accommodating.  Student athletes who struggle with organization, time management, and multi-tasking skills will have their work cut out for them in the transition from high school to college.

Final thoughts

College athletics are big business these days, and often incoming student athletes have to grow up very quickly to stay on top of their game (both on and off the field).  While this transition may be daunting at times, the great news is that the vast majority of individuals fortunate enough to take their talents to the college level are very happy with the experience.  The best advice is to learn as much as you can about the transition to college athletics, talk to mentors and current/former players, and develop the life skills needed in order to excel in athletics and academics.

If you are a current or former college student athlete, what is the biggest myth/reality that you have experienced?  Do you have any additional tips to provide to high school student athletes hoping to one day play at the college level?

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