Young Athletes Should Be Willing to Play at the Level They Are Recruited

The number of high school athletes who believe they should play at the premier level of college sports is too large to contemplate, much less calculate. The available high-level spots for incoming freshmen are extremely limited and the big time programs have the money, connections and ability to find the best of the best in high school talent.  Yet, it is rare that National Scouting Report scouts will walk into a living room to interview a potential college prospect who will not say, “I want to play for North Carolina,” or Kansas or Auburn or Arizona or USC or Wisconsin, etc.  And sitting next to this kid are two parents nodding and smiling as if to say, “And we think it’s possible!” We’re all in favor of setting sights high, but every family should have a Plan B in place in case those programs fail to show them any serious interest.

It’s a tough thing  for our scouts to hear, especially since it is likely that we have recently evaluated the athlete in person and know that he or she is a lower level prospect.  Size, speed, ability, strength–any one of a number of the essential attributes necessary to play at the DI level can be missing, but in their naivete, the family is unaware that their dreams will not materialize.  Coaches at the penultimate height of college athletics have a relatively small group of prep athletes from which to choose and those candidates are usually tattooed with “can’t miss” labels by the ninth or tenth grades.  When we sit in front of the family of a junior or senior convinced that a DI coach will show up out of thin air and drop a scholarship in their laps, we’re talking about folks whose understanding of recruiting is rudimentary at best.  It’s not their fault, to an extent, but to sit idly by without a back-up plan is beyond being unwise. 

A dose of reality has to be brought to the conversation and it is not always well received.  Still, it would be a disservice to the family to pretend an athlete is more than they have estimated.  It’s our job as scouts to be truthful without being hurtful and that can be a slippery slope.  Knowing how to communicate the truth in a delicate way is what we are trained to do, however.  If we are going to work with, that is represent, a high school athlete, we owe the family a full helping of honesty.

Many times our approach is to ease it into the conversation, as in, “If a division one college does not show you interest, will you accept and respond to the attention of coaches at lower level programs?”  Or, we might say, “We can never be certain which coaches will respond to your qualifications, or why, but it would be smart to explore your options as a fail safe Plan B.”  These statements give the family food for important thought.  For the first time, the “what if” scenario enters their minds.  And, if when we begin our promotional efforts, a prospect discovers that only mid- and lower-level programs are responding, they are prepared, if not forced, to expand their expectations to those avenues.

The disconnect between dreams and reality is normal.  They are largely born of the imagination in backyard and sandlot games as everyone assumes the role of their favorite star athletes.  Mimicking the physical moves and attitudes of proven athletes infiltrates the minds of youngsters and over time erroneously convinces them of that they are more capable than they really are.  That’s where parents and coaches should provide frank and fair assessments of what it takes, physically, mentally and ability-wise, to reach the top rung of college athletics.


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