The Dos & Don'ts of Becoming a College Athlete

I raised eight children, all of them involved with youth sports at some level. So I can tell you from experience that youth sports can become a full time job for kids and their parents alike.

My own children have run the gamut of student athletics—late bloomers, early prodigies, and highly sought after phenoms. And they've experienced all the adversity that comes with athletic perseverance—defeat, injury, and burnout.

But the value that athletic participation adds to student life can be enormous, and well worth the challenges that come with it. That's why we've put together this helpful list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" for those who wish to continue their athletic pursuits in college. We believe that with the right moves, you could improve your odds of advancing your athletic career and while avoiding some of the pitfalls that come along with the recruiting process.

Today's student athletes have the opportunity to take part in numerous sports on very competitive levels. Colleges have scholarships available for both traditional and non-traditional sports. Today, colleges provide more sports scholarship opportunities for student athletes than at any other time in our nation's history.

Getting recruited to play a sport in college, at any level, can be difficult. Sometimes, it's about being seen in the right place at the right time. But preparation can go a long way. Personal recruiting services can give you a jumpstart and provide certain resources that can help you with the recruiting process. But no one service will have all the components to take care of every aspect that will need to be addressed. To get you on the college radar, you, individually, will have to carry a majority of the responsibility. Make the most of the services available to you, but at the end of the day, recognize that it falls upon you to help yourself!

Before we proceed to our list of helpful tips, we do have one friendly reminder:

Colleges Have a Lot of Athletes To Choose From…

So if you are hoping to win the attention of recruiters, you'll need to do more than just play at a competitive level.

Coaches and recruiters will observe and evaluate hundreds of players all over the country. Recruiting decisions, sometimes have to be made very quickly. A college may only have time to watch you for minutes, hours or seconds. You may not even know how, when or where they saw you. More importantly, if they are interested in you, understand that your performance and behavior will be a reflection on them. It's their team!

What's more, considering the limited opportunities a college coach might have to see you during the recruitment process, it is imperative that you are on your best behavior. Indeed, this may be the first, last and only impression they have of you! An uninterested posture, bad attitude, disputes with referees, disdain towards teammates, eye-rolling, or distracted focus could deliver a fatal blow to your recruiting process.

If you throw up any warning flags, a recruiter may simply move on to the next student-athlete. College sports have thousands of high school athletes to choose from, particularly considering that only 5% will actually play a college sport. Remember, they already know you can play the sport or they wouldn't be watching you at all. They can pull up your grades, stats and physical attributes to see that you are awesome. They really need to see your character and learn what kind of person you are.

So, when you're sitting on the bench, waiting for your opportunity to shine, make every effort to show your support for other athletes. The majority of student athletes who make it to the college level will probably start…on the bench. Always show that you are going to be a team player, not a problem child.

And with that, here are some helpful “Do's” and “Don'ts” for those of you that aspire to compete in sports at the college level.

The “Do's”

1. Do Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center

First and foremost, if you intend to play any sports in college, get this done! This is an important step toward becoming a college athlete. Review acceptance and eligibility requirements at NCAA.org.

2. Do Play on a Club/AAU team

Playing on a club or AAU team places you in front of more college coaches. Club teams play in the various tournaments around the country during what the NCAA calls “Live Periods.” There are a certain number of days during the year when coaches are allowed to watch prospective student athletes participate against one another. The dates and times in which coaches can view you officially are pre-determined by the NCAA. The recruiting calendar at NCAA.org should be helpful. The rules vary for each sport and each division level of college.

3. Do Enlist Services For Recruitment Help

This is a great idea. Just make sure you get what you pay for. There are some very good services out there. Check with others that have used a particular service. What were their results? Find out if this is a service college coaches respect and use regularly. Also, define what level of player you think you are (D1, D2, D3, NAIA, etc.). then ask what level of player they think you are? You don't want to spend a lot of time and money barking up the wrong tree! Your time maybe short. It is important that you choose a reputable service.

4. Fact check Everything!

When you send information to colleges, the basic essentials should be consistent. Inconsistencies in your information can raise questions. Unless you are a superstar athlete, they may not bother to investigate the discrepancies. They may simply move on to the next athlete. Also, it's not a bad idea to reach out to your recruiter and make sure they have everything they need from you.

5. Do Have Recruiting Information Available At All Times

Be sure that your grades, stats and evaluations are readily available. If a recruiter requests information, be ready to get it to them quickly. Make it as easy as possible for them to obtain your information. Better yet, get to them before they ask.

6. Do Use Proper English

When you are communicating with colleges or college personnel, whether by call, text or email, do your best to be professional. Be clear and to the point. Obviously, don't use harsh or abrasive language. Allow them to lead the conversation and don't use too many slang terms. When texting or emailing, watch the acronyms and/or SMS language. And stay away from ‘emojis'! The person on the other end may not know the true meaning and what you mean to imply. You don't want to be misinterpreted. It's also important that you identify who you are on all communications. Proofread your texts and emails a couple of times before you hit send! Anything can happen. For example: A few years ago, my boss sent a text and asked me to do something for him. Happy to do it, I responded with “You betcha!”… my phone auto-corrected it to… “You b______! Anyway, you get the idea.

7. Do College Elite Camps

If you have been invited to a college Elite camp… GO! Elite camps are usually different than the other camps colleges offer. This is a great place for them to get to know you and to evaluate if you're a good fit. This will also give you the opportunity to look at the facilities and the campus without using an “official visit.”

8. Do Fill Out those Recruiting Questionnaires

When and if you get recruiting forms from colleges, fill them out and return them. Even if you think of yourself as a Division I player, fill out the Division II, Division III or NAIA, questionnaires too. You don't want to miss out on a really good opportunity. Colleges need to know you are as interested in them as they are in you. Your questionnaire responses will give them a sense of where you stand. Sometimes, this can be the difference-maker.

9. Do Reach Out to the Coach

Don't be afraid to send an email or make a phone call. Reach out! Being proactive is a great way to gain interest from a school. Send them whatever they ask for. Getting noticed can be challenging so do what you can to stand out, so long as it is done in a professional and appropriate fashion.

10. Do Show Gratitude

Be sure to thank the referees, scorekeepers, your teammates and the opposing team. Remember, word travels fast. How you interact with others will be reflected in how others perceive and interact with you. Be competitive of course, but also be respectful, kind and thoughtful.

The “Don'ts”

1. Don't Tarnish Your Image on Social Media

Your online image is important. Watch it closely and keep it clean. Ensure you have a really good grasp on the various media and apps. Not knowing could land a devastating blow to your recruiting process. Take the time to understand who can see what any time you post. And remember, nothing that is transmitted on the web is 100% secure. Once published, you live with it, not just for the rest of your life, but for the life of the Internet. (Even if they do say it's only visible for a 10 second Snapchat!) SB Nation warns that college coaches monitor social media constantly and that it isn't rare for an errant tweet to result in the withdrawal of a scholarship. So don't share your password, made sure your phone goes into auto-lock when idle, and post only appropriate, spell-checked, and grammatically correct messages.

2. Don't Throw Shade

Make every attempt to lift yourself up without putting others down. Coaches at the college level have most likely heard it all before. Shoot straight and be respectful of others. If it sounds bad in your head, then it probably is. Keep it to yourself.

3. Don't Expect Your Parents To Do Stuff For You

It might sound ridiculous, but when you are being recruited, the last thing you want is mom or dad bringing you a drink during the game. This seems like a small thing, but reflects a player that has not prepared for the game and is far from mature. You are expected to be old enough to manage your own hydration. If you can't do that, college recruiters may be inclined to ask what else you can't handle on your own.

4. Don't Procrastinate

If you are truly serious about playing a sport in college, get started early. Reach out to as many colleges as you can! Many student athletes jump into the talent pool late. These days though, kids are getting verbal offers and making verbal commitments earlier and earlier. Believe it or not, if you're really serious and advanced, Junior High is not too soon! The offers are going out, so get your name in the mix.

5. Don't Rely Exclusively on Your Coaches

Of course, your high school and AAU coaches are a great source for wisdom, advice, and support. But they can only do so much. Don't rely on them to get you a scholarship. That's on you. Colleges are going to want to hear from you directly. Your high school and AAU/Club coach are not going to college with you. Begin proving you can do it on your own, starting now!

6. Don't Focus on Other People's Journeys

Face it, some players will get offers early because of their athleticism, size, or talent. Some young athletes simply have amazing gifts beyond compare. Making that your concern may hamper or derail your own progress. Be inspired, rather than discouraged, by the success of others. Let it push you to strive for improvement.

7. Don't Overlook Details

Know the difference between “official visits” and “unofficial visits” to interested colleges. Know when to take your ACT or SAT. Know when to submit your high school transcripts. Know your grade point average. Keep up on your academic and athletic affairs. Create a calendar and get organized.. You don't want to find out later that you missed out, because you didn't know.

8. Don't Get Ahead of Yourself

You didn't receive an offer…yet. Coaches have positions to fill and have to factor in many roles for the team's future. You must be mentally prepared for whatever high's and low's come your way during the recruitment process. Some players must work harder than others to get attention or catch a break. Be patient and persevere.

Now that you know a little more…

The recruiting process can be enjoyable, if you make it so. Just be prepared for some ups and downs.

With any luck, you will find your way to the college of your dreams. Consider your potential opportunities and find out what their expectations are of you. Be conscious that each student athlete's situation is unique. Formulate a plan to make yourself a viable prospect and the right fit will come along.

Again, the best place to start, register and learn the rules is at the NCAA's website.

Good luck and always show your best version of you!