Athletes need to take charge of their future

Athletes Need to Take Charge of Their Future
By Stephen Tobey
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Chelmsford Independent

If a high school athlete is counting on a full athletic scholarship to finance his or her college education, he or she is likely to be disappointed, as is his or her parents.

That does not necessarily mean that there’s no place for that athlete in a college program somewhere, however.

“If you’ve had a good four years in high school, you can have a great four years in college,” said Ray Lauenstein, co-author of the book “The Making of a Student-Athlete: Succeeding in the College Selection and Recruiting Process for High School Athletes, Parents and Coaches”. “There is a program for every good high school athlete.”

Monday night, Lauenstein and his co-author Dave Galehouse talked to high school athletes and their parents at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School about what they need to know about playing in college. Merrimack College baseball coach Joe Sarno also offered his perspectives on recruiting.

While the Holy Grail of many high school athletes is the full ride, the full, all-expenses-paid athletic scholarship at a Division I program, there just aren’t many of those available, even at Division I schools.

Of the 200,000 athletes playing at NCAA Division I and II colleges, only half receive some form of athletic scholarship and even fewer receive full scholarships. Basketball and football are the only full-funded sports at all Division I schools. In other sports, coaches have to stretch their scholarship budgets by distributing partial scholarships. In Division I baseball, schools may offer 11.7 scholarships. At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, there are 33 players on the baseball team’s roster.

Many schools do not offer the maximum number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA. Fairfield University’s women’s tennis team, for example, has just one full scholarship, while the NCAA allows up to eight tennis players to receive athletic scholarship money.

“A lot of coaches aren’t playing with a full deck [offering the maximum number of available scholarships],” said Lauenstein.

While athletic scholarship opportunities are limited, there are other ways for a promising student-athlete to finance his or her education. Most of those opportunities require the athlete to take care of business in the classroom.

“Academics are your best chance,” said Lauenstein. “There is far more money available for students with good grades. Know the realities.”

One of the realities is that athletes are not “discovered” by coaches.

“Coaches rely on you,” said Lauenstein. “You can call. You can e-mail. Every college athletic Web site has an online recruiting form on it. Start early, by your junior year.”

The first step in figuring out which college is the right one is putting the ego aside.

“Don’t judge a program by what division it is,” said Galehouse, who briefly attended Rollins College and tried out for its national powerhouse Division II baseball team before transferring and finding a spot on the roster at Division I Fairfield University.

The next step is getting an honest assessment of athletic ability.

“The biggest mistake is overestimating how good they are,” said Lauenstein. “You can also underestimate your ability and sell yourself short.”

An athlete can find out where he or she stacks up against other prospects by attending camps and showcases, playing on AAU or travel teams, or getting third-party evaluations from experts in their sport.

Athletes also need to consider where they might fit in with a given school’s team and its coach’s plans and if their academic background is good enough to get admitted to the school. They also need to figure out if their family can afford the school.

Though many people hope to play sports at selective colleges in the Ivy Leagues or New England Small College Athletic Conference, those colleges accept relatively few students compared to the number of applications they receive. According to Lauenstein and Galehouse there are many other colleges with excellent athletic and academic programs that have much higher acceptance rates and offer good financial aid packages.

In addition to athletic ability and a solid academic background, college coaches also look for quality people.

“I look for discipline, work ethic and passion,” said Sarno. “Passion is the number one thing. We work so hard and I expect so much that if you don’t have passion for the game, you won’t make it.”

While the time commitments of intercollegiate athletics at any level are demanding, the rewards are great, even for the vast majority of athletes who don’t go on to play at the professional level.

“I know somebody who works in job placement at Babson College,” said Galehouse. “He told me when corporate recruiters ask for resumes, the first people they ask for are the varsity athletes and the varsity captains.” For more information on Ray Lauenstein and Dave Galehouse’s book “The Making of a Student-Athlete: Succeeding in the College Selection and Recruiting Process for High School Athletes, Parents and Coaches”. “There is a program for every good high school athlete”