The College Conversation: Club sports another way to keep playing

There are athletes who've been playing ball, swimming laps, slamming, digging, paddling and attacking for years. As they enter high school, they dream of playing in college or even going pro.

But the reality is that most athletes won't make the cut past high school. They'll begin to see the obvious differences between their height, weight and strength, and that of their peers, and become fully aware that their chances of being recruited are dramatically shrinking.

While they are feeling dismayed about their ability to play in college, more confusion is caused by the lack of honest answers from their high school's coaching staff. It's only on that rare occasion that clients tell me about their coaches having advised them honestly about their chances of recruitment. Instead of blowing smoke, coaches should at least help athletes explore the vast options available in college, where athletes can continue playing their sports outside of the realm of the NCAA.

Club sports and those in the National Intramural Recreational Sports Assn. (NIRSA) offer the opportunity for your child to play competitively against other colleges. And these teams are nothing like your high school's intramural program. They train hard and travel miles to compete against other colleges in their league.

Some club teams are even better than low-level NCAA varsity programs. The NIRSA offers competitive intercollegiate athletics in basketball, tennis, volleyball, flag football, golf and soccer. The main requirements for participation include being enrolled part-time and no involvement on the school's varsity team. The Collegiate Water Polo Assn. offers something similar, as do other sports.

But, let's say your child doesn't want to maintain any level of competition. I imagine, on some level, that he or she still wants to continue participating in his or her sport. You've got to help them explore the other recreational opportunities on college campuses. If he or she swims, make sure the college has a pool. Or encourage participation in alternative sports like rugby, ultimate Frisbee, or even inner tube water polo.

The truth is most high school athletes will never get the chance to play at the NCAA level, regardless of the division. Recent data show that about 3% of male basketball players go on to play NCAA hoops. There are more than 30,000 high school water polo players and less than 2,000 playing in the NCAA.

Let's not keep this a secret to our young athletes. Let's help them remember the main reasons behind their love of sport.

It feels good to sweat. And it does a body good to stay in shape.

The rush of adrenaline during competition is invigorating. Whether they win or lose, being exposed to competition is good for them socially.

The camaraderie is downright fun and playing on a school team promotes a consistent connection and feeling of sisterhood or brotherhood. Even a tough loss brings a team closer together.

The endorphins aren't so bad either. They're a necessary chemical for relieving the stress of a tough class or bad breakup. What a great boost to keep your kid feeling good when something gets them down.

I love seeing students' faces light up when they hear they have options. It's nice to know they can still play in college — it just might look a little different.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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