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How to Become a Successful College Athlete

Being successful as a student-athlete starts with first becoming a college athlete through hard work, dedication to your sport, and the “dreaded” recruiting process —all before freshman year even begins. College amateurs in their respective sports usually start in their high school years. If you want to pursue college or professional athletics, your time in high school will be formative keystones for the rest of your athletic career. So, what do you need to know and do in high school in order to open those doors to becoming a college athlete?

We know the recruiting process of becoming a college athlete can feel overwhelming, but it’s all worth it given the incredible benefits to being an NCAA athlete. Still, we’re here to make your life a little simpler as you navigate the waters of college athletics recruiting with a few key tips on how to become a successful college athlete.


Be Eligible 

1. Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center

Registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center is the first step to getting access to the resources you need for recruiting and eligibility, like required credits and GPA standards to be able to start your college athletic career.


2. Focus on academics. 

You will need to maintain a certain GPA in high school to qualify for college athletics programs and scholarships. You may also have to meet minimum requirements for SAT/ACT, coursework, and even letters of recommendation. Even though athletics are a huge part of your future, your academic record is equally as—if not more—important. If your athletics aren’t aligned and strong, college recruiters won’t even give you a second glance. 

Get some of your burning questions about college athletics answered here


Get Yourself Seen

1. Play on your high school team as well as clubs or AAU teams.

College coaches often recruit at club tournaments, rather than school ones. The recruiting rules vary depending on sport and division, but playing club sports in high school is one of the best ways to get noticed by colleges.


2. Attend college elite camps.

Being invited to attend an elite camp is a huge honor that can open a lot of doors for learning new sports skills, networking, and getting seen by recruiters. It also demonstrates that the college is interested in you, and will allow you to see if you’re interested in that college in return.


3. Have a resume available.

It’s never too early to have a resume! If you’re at a tournament and a recruiter wants your information, you want to have all your stats, evaluations, and eligibility at the ready. Plus, if there’s a particular school you’re eyeing, you can get your name and resume in front of the coaches before they even ask. Make sure your resume is thorough and well-written. Have a few trusted advisors and parents read it over before you give it to anyone. Learn how to write a resume here.


4. Talk to coaches. 

Very rarely do coaches “fight” over a player. Instead, fight for yourself. If you’re interested in certain colleges, be proactive. Reach out to the team’s coaches, college athletes, and even former players. Email professors and academic advisors, too. Send an email or make a phone call. Find them at tournaments and introduce yourself. The very best way to get yourself noticed is with a firm handshake, a smile, and a great conversation with people who are involved at that college.


5. Stand out. 

It’s hard to get noticed, even if you’re in attendance at every tournament and game. You may need to think outside the box to get yourself “seen” by recruiters. You can try making a website with your resume, stats, highlight reels, academic info… and a video of you playing the violin (if that’s something you do). Or maybe you can include a video of you doing stand-up comedy or rapping about why you want to play sports in college. You’re more than just an athlete, so show off what makes you special and unique to have as a candidate and team member. 

As long as you are professional and appropriate, demonstrating your unique attributes as a college applicant can get you pushed to the top of the potential recruits. Another way to stand out? Rep your desired college’s team colors with a school t-shirt or university sweatshirt when you talk to recruiters, so they know which team you want first and foremost. (Change your tee when you talk to a recruiter from a different school.)


6. Network… with a “thank you.”

Whether or not you believe in karma, good things come back around. If you are nice to people at games and tournaments, like refs, scorekeepers, teammates, opposing teams, coaches, and janitors, people will remember your kindness and smiling face. A “thank you” and a little thoughtfulness can go a long way when recruiting time comes around. What’s even better than a competitive nature is a respectful and considerate one. If two athletes have similar stats in academics and athletics, the one with the reputation for kindness will always get first pick.


7.  Fill out recruiting questionnaires. 

Fill out every recruiting form you receive. Even if you think you’re a D1 athlete, fill out D2 and D3 recruiting forms if you get them as well. If opportunities come your way, take them! These questionnaires can help colleges and coaches get a good idea of where you stand compared to other potential college athletes, and it might open doors you weren’t expecting.


8. Get help from professional recruiting services. 

There are a lot of services that can help high schoolers get recruited as college amateur athletes. You can find a list of some common recruiting services here, but you should also ask around to get reviews from other athletes and friends who have used a particular service to make sure the program is reputable and will have your best interests in mind.


Be Self-Aware 

1. Look at your skills truthfully.

Is Division I your dream and a little bit of a “reach,” or are you more of a D2 or D3 player? Do you have the capacity to play as a college amateur against some of the best in the sport? Focusing only on D1 could make you miss out on other opportunities; while on the flip side, not giving yourself credit for your skills can also hamper your potential. So just be honest with yourself and, if need be, ask coaches, advisors, and teammates what they honestly think about your skillset. 

Please note that this doesn’t mean you should start comparing yourself to others. Instead, keep your eye on yourself to figure out what success in college will look like for you.


2. Be aware of your social media presence.

Recruiters will look at your social media, and if it’s inappropriate or rude, it could cost you the opportunity to play at that school. A lot of college coaches watch their recruits’ and team members’ social media—yes, even if you’re private—and it can have a huge impact on your eligibility. Just remember that once something is published on social media, it’s on the Internet forever. 

Recommended read: What You Should Know as a College-Bound Athlete 


Take Control of Your Future

1. Don’t procrastinate. 

The earlier you start preparing, the higher your chances of getting recruited and joining the leagues of college athletes. Reach out to recruiters. Talk to coaches. Fill out questionnaires and applications. Even if you’re one of the best players in your state, colleges won’t wait around for you to get your act together. The more proactive you are, the greater your chances of success.


2. Don’t rely on parents and coaches. 

You want to show recruiters (and yourself) that you are mature enough to handle the rigors of being a student-athlete, which means taking control of your own playing and recruiting process. Don’t expect your coaches or advisors to do it for you. You should go to them for advice and support, but you have to be the one in control. Once you’re a freshman in college, you’ll be 100% responsible for your life—so start now! 


3. Set goals for yourself. 

Having something tangible to work towards can be really helpful in setting yourself up for success. Maybe you want to score a certain number of points this semester, or you want to spend a certain number of hours on the field. You should also set academic and social goals to ensure that one area doesn’t start to overshadow the others too much. College recruiters want to see a well-rounded applicant, as well as a great sports star.


Find a College and Program that Will Make You Happy

1. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, choose a college and athletic program that’s a good fit. 

Don’t choose a school just because they want you. You’re going to spend four years at this school, and you’ll be spending a strong majority of that time with your coaches and team. You want to make sure it feels like the right fit for you so that you’ll be excited to show off your school pride. Ask about the team’s overall GPA, retention rate, common team member’s majors, etc. Visit the campus. See what career paths, resources, and clubs they offer. Look both at the college as a whole as well as the athletic program to figure out if it’s the right fit for you

Are you on the path to becoming a successful college athlete? 

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