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College 101

Right Fit Mentality for Athletes
Article Type: Checklist

There are a few things to consider when looking for the right athletic fit, but remember that the most important thing you can do throughout this entire process is to be honest with yourself, your parents, and the schools you are contacting. That honesty will help you find the place that best suits your needs. Ultimately, that honesty, while it might not match up exactly with your wants, will result in the happiest and most fulfilling experience that you can get from college athletics. Here’s all the other things you should definitely take into consideration:

Decide what division you want to play in

Many people think that there is one level of college athletics, Division I. Or, rather, they think that there is only one level worth any consideration. This ill-informed mentality does not appreciate the level of athletics being played in the other divisions. Each level is different and has its pros and cons. Considering all the different options and rules can be confusing, but luckily we’re here to translate all of that mumbo jumbo into the things that will help you.

When you are a college athlete, your coach will likely be with you for 4 years. That is a long time to be under the tutelage of one person. Granted, it may seem like coaches move all over the place given all the stories on ESPN, but most coaches tend to stay at the same school. During the recruitment process, feel free to ask the coach where they see themselves in 3-5 years. Ask them if they have kids or a relative close by. Often times, coaches with familial ties in the area, especially ones including little munchkins, will be less likely to move across the country to coach at another school.

When you are researching a school, be sure to look at the history of its athletic program. Pay special attention to the coach's history. There are many factors to explore about a coach. Here are a few specific points of interest:

  • Whether they were recently hired or have been there for decades
  • Whether they bring in 20 kids in a recruitment class and then cut 16 or bring in 6 andkeep 5
  • Whether they have ever been named coach of the year
  • Whether they played that sport in college and, if they did, where was it
  • Whether they’ve played professionally or not
  • How long they have coached and at what level
  • What alumni say about them
  • Who their back-up dancers are (meaning their assistant coaching staff, of course)

The easiest way to find out all of this information is by using the internet, but we would only recommend you do this for your initial "I'm interested" search. Going beyond that preliminary probe, you should call the coach and speak to him as often as possible. Coaches are just like all other people; they love reliving their glory days and having their egos stroked. Ask questions about random things, what they like to do on the weekend, what their favorite food is, what professional athlete could they take in a one on one match.

"If they say this guy then they must have a great sense of humor."

(Source)

Anything is on the table as long as it is honest and portrays you in a positive light. Showing a genuine interest in them will make it easier for them to be honestly invested in you. They will have a better idea if you fit into their team, and you will have a better idea if you could live with this person coaching your for 4 long years.

The biggest question you are going to have to ask yourself in terms of a coaching fit is, "Am I looking for a parent or a boss?" A parent is someone who calls you to their office to chat about how your day is going. This coach genuinely cares about whether or not you are passing classes and if you are happy with your new girlfriend of boyfriend. A boss is someone who sticks to questions regarding your performance and what you are doing to improve. After telling you exactly what they think you should be doing, they leave you with an assistant to review an hour or so of game film.

Those are two extreme cases, and most coaches are somewhere in between. However, knowing what you want from your coach in terms of those two traits can go a long way towards finding the right fit. You might be able to put up with some gruffness if you are looking for a more professional environment, or you might want a more personal experience with a figure that you want to be a mentor. Be honest with yourself about what you want. If you can't perform with someone yelling at you all the time, then pick the coach who likes to hold onto their clipboard.

Decide where you want to play

This one is not as critical in terms of finding the right division or coaching fit, but it is important in terms of performance. There are also several factors to consider here as well.

First, you have to consider weather. If you grew up and played only in Southern California, then playing your winter season in Chicago is going to be a major shock to your system. Simply stated, you might not be able to do it. Think about what kind of weather is conducive to your prime performance. Do you like it cooler and a little wet? Try the Northwest schools in Washington and Oregon. Do you like it hot and humid? Then the South is for you. Get to know the weather of different regions, then think about whether you can actually picture yourself trudging through 8 inches of snow every morning.  

"The field was there last night…"

(Source)

Second, the facilities themselves are important. Do you want a field that sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean? Do you want a state of the art gym with sensors in everything? Or do you want a more relaxed experience that wouldn’t make you feel like a scientific experiment? Knowing how you train and under what conditions is essential for this step. If possible, go to the actual campus. Usually the college will host sport specific camps so that coaches can identify players, but you can use these opportunities to identify whether or not you feel comfortable at the facilities.

Even though all other aspects of your athletic checklist might be marked, if the school’s facilities and weather are not conducive to your performance, you may find yourself unhappy and struggling to achieve success. These two things are often overlooked, but they greatly affect your day to day life. Be sure to give them the respect they deserve.

Decide how you are going to fit in with the team

Most sports at the collegiate level are team sports. This means that you will be seeing the same group of people almost every day of the year for 4 years. And you thought having a coach for 4 years was bad.

Your teammates are as critical to your success as you are to theirs. Being able to have a relationship with them on and off the field is extremely important. You are going to be around these people for a large portion of your college experience. Be prepared to sweat with them, to eat almost every meal with them, to laugh and cry with them. There will be fights and disagreements. There will also be great moments that you will never forget. Your teammates can end up being your best friends, but sadly they can also become your worst enemies. Either can happen when you're around the same people for such a large amount of time. So how do you make the most of your teammates and increase the value of your college experience?

For how important this criterion is, much of it is left up to luck. Unfortunately, you are not going to be best friends with the entire team the instant you step on the field for your first practice or tryout. It is something that takes work, a lot of work. Did we mention that it takes a ginormous amount of work?

One way to make it a little easier is to research the roster. Look to see which players are graduating versus which players are staying. Check out where those players come from, what club teams or high schools. Also, if you are being recruited, ask your coach who is going to be recruited in the same class as you. Show interest! Getting to know your teammates is critical for forming a cohesive team. Making an effort to accept people that you might not normally identify as your ideal friend will improve the quality of your time spent with the team tremendously.

Another way you can start to build a relationship with the team before you actually arrive at the school is to go to overnight camps.

"No, not that type of camp."

(Source)

Most college programs offer some sort of camps with the option to commute or stay the night on campus. Even if you live five minutes from the college, we would highly recommend you choose the overnight option. In the overnight program you will have the opportunity to interact with the college players, most of whom will be the camp counselors who stay with the campers almost 24/7. That means that even when you leave the field, you will still be around them, hanging out in the dorms, and eating meals with them. Camps represent a great opportunity to pick current players' brains and get to know them on a more personal level. Who knows, they might end up becoming your best friend on your future team.

Unfortunately, being able to fit in on a team does not always work. Sometimes there are too many people you simply cannot get along with or other circumstances that will prevent you from success and happiness. If this is the case, do not view it as a critique of yourself. The good thing about college teams is that every year there are new people coming in and older people going out. A team that has some jerks on it could change in a year and be great. If this is not the case, or you can’t take that chance, then do not view transferring as a defeat. Remember that this whole process is about finding the best athletic fit, and if you didn’t find it on the first try, who cares? Try, try again. The added bonus is that this time you have some experience to drawn on while considering the various aspects of different potential schools.

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