Stanford University

How to Help your Student-athlete Win a Sports Scholarship

When Jane English, a highly regarded soccer player in her rural high school in Illinois, began looking at colleges and collegiate soccer programs, her parents called the head soccer coaches at each of the schools she was interested in. They extolled her virtues and told the coaches why they would be lucky to have her on their team. Jane didn’t call the coaches herself; Jane also didn’t get recruited.

College coaches are often put off by over enthusiastic, too forward parents. They say they want the student-athlete to make the contact instead.

Chris Bates, head men’s lacrosse coach at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, was quoted by authors Penny Hastings and Todd Caven in their book, How To Win A Sports Scholarship (Redwood Creek Publishing, 2007, $24.95, www.winasportsscholarship.com), “I can appreciate parents wanting the best for their child, but sometimes they are overbearing and don’t realize that they’re putting their son or daughter at a disadvantage.”

Bates continues, “I want to hear that young man stammer through an introduction. I want him to advocate for himself. That’s the young man I want to deal with.”

John Ross, women’s basketball coach at Calvin College, Michigan, agrees. “The student, not the parents, needs to take the initiative.”

With college costs growing annually at a rate of 6.5% (a student starting in the fall of 2007 can expect to pay as much as $69,700 for a four-year degree at a public university; at private institutions this amount could easily climb to $142,000), parents are looking for ways to help pay these daunting expenses. No wonder they want their athletic kids to get a sports scholarship.

Sports and other kinds of scholarships are free money. They don’t have to be repaid. That’s why they are the best form of financial aid. But, sports scholarships are unlike need-based scholarships, given to the families with the greatest financial need. Sports scholarships are talent-based and are awarded by the individual schools’ athletic departments, rather than the colleges, organizations, associations or government agencies. They are used to recruit the best athletes for their school teams.

Talented high school (and 2-year college) athletes should begin researching colleges and the sports programs they might fit into early in their high school years. According to How To Win A Sports Scholarship, the student-athlete should be the team leader, while parents can provide backup support. They can help guide their athletic child through thinking about the type of school that interests them, looking at the competitive the level of the sports program at those schools and encouraging them to contact coaches—by letter, e-mail or phone call–at the schools they identify as possibilities.

According to Hastings and Caven, “Kids don’t have to be superstars. They need to be above-average athletes and students and willing to bring themselves to the attention of college coaches. Once they jump-start the recruiting process, coaches will respond.”

The authors wrote How To Win A Sports Scholarship after their own successful experience. Caven was a junior in high school when he began to look for colleges and hoping he could continue to play soccer at that level. He and his mom, co-author Penny Hastings, put together a ‘game plan’ whereby he contacted college coaches by mail and indicated an interest in their school.

“It was amazing,” says Caven. “While my friends, other really talented high school athletes, weren’t getting noticed by a single coach, I was getting letters, phone calls and e-mails from the coaches I contacted.”

Caven was offered four scholarships and chose Stanford University, where he played varsity soccer for four years, graduating with a degree in economics. His soccer coach, Sam Koch, who is now the head soccer coach at University of Massachusetts, told Caven that he stood out from the crowded field of applicants because he not only made first contact, but he kept in touch with Koch, reiterating his interest.

“That’s key,” says Koch. He appreciates the initiative student-athletes show when they contact him. He encourages parents to stay in the background during this time and let him get to know the student-athlete. He warns that pushy parents can subvert the process and cause coaches to reject their kids. When parents take the lead, coaches suspect they are more interested than their students.

Here’s some advice to parents by college coaches:

“The student-athlete, not the parent, should contact and correspond with the coach,” says Calvin College’s women’s basketball coach John Ross.

“I want to get a feel for the parents. It gives you a better idea about the kids. Sometimes the parents can be a deal-breaker for me,” says Shellie Onstead, field hockey coach, University of California at Berkeley.

“Don’t have your dad do a ‘voice-over’ on the video,” advises Stan Morrison, Athletic Director, University of California at Riverside.

Koch says, “Make sure you carry your own suitcase and sports bag when you come for a campus visit. I’m really put off if I see your parents carrying them for you!”

Bates continues, “I want to hear that young man stammer through an introduction. I want him to advocate for himself. That’s the young man I want to deal with.”

John Ross, women’s basketball coach at Calvin College, Michigan, agrees. “The student, not the parents, needs to take the initiative.”

Chris

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