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Getting Your Athlete Into College

by on August 17, 2010 7:00 AM

My name is Joe Battista, and I'm addicted to sports.

Throughout the last four decades (and then some), I have...

  • ...competed in baseball, football, hockey, track, cross-country and even basketball (for one year).
  • ...been a coach or administrator for all levels -- the amateurs, high school, prep school, NCAA Division 1, ACHA, USA Hockey Development programs and the NHL (with the Pittsburgh Penguins).
  • ...gone to Super Bowls, World Series games, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Indianapolis 500, college bowl games, NBA and NCAA basketball playoffs, and many more regular-season games and events.
  • ...had a daughter who became a figure skater and skier, played youth soccer and basketball, tried softball as a kid and ran track in high school. She works out regularly at the YMCA, runs and plays tennis recreationally. 
  • ...had sons who have tried hockey, soccer, baseball, football, basketball, skiing and golf in one form or another.
  • ...had a father who played minor league pro baseball and spent his entire life playing, coaching and administering competitive baseball and softball. 

Even today, I...

  • ...play hockey, softball, golf, tennis, and ski. 
  • ...watch ESPN and the Big Ten Network more than I watch the evening news. 

To say sports have made an impact on my life would be a great understatement.

In my lifetime, I have seen athletics bring out the best and the worst in not only the athletes, but also their parents (myself included). The highs and lows, combined with the raw emotion and pure drama and passion, can inspire us or break our hearts.

Since I started coaching 30 years ago, one thing has consistently bothered me: the use of sports as a means to an end, especially when that end is the prized and often elusive collegiate athletic scholarship.

Of "the good, the bad and the ugly" of youth sports, the bad is the category for this topic. I have watched so many young athletes and their parents with very misplaced priorities in the pursuit of a better athletic experience.

Many young players aspire to earn a scholarship and play Division I sports, to represent our country on a national team or in the Olympics, and to play professionally. These are all lofty goals, and only a very few exceptional athletes ever realize these dreams. This is addressed well by the recent NCAA commercials, which say that about 99 percent of all NCAA athletes will be professionals in something other than sports. Still, parents far too often ignore the data and take the "my kid is different" approach.

I am constantly amazed at how poorly prepared and ill-informed high school players and parents are when it comes to choosing a college and how little they really understand the recruiting process. This is one of the single most important decisions a young person and his/her family will ever make, yet most people will spend more time researching the purchase of a new car than a college education.

I will provide you (or your friends) with a game plan for developing a list of options for your choice of schools. This is simply meant to whet your appetite, to provide a spark to get you motivated to become informed, but everything you could need to know could not be written in one column.

So let's begin with the cold, hard facts:

The odds of one becoming a brain surgeon are greater than those of that person having a lengthy career in professional sports. There are more than 4,500 certified neurosurgeons in the U.S. alone making a median salary of $500,000 annually. There are, for instance, roughly 700 NHL players who will play for an average of less than four years! Furthermore, the competition for scholarships is almost as fierce, and parents and athletes will sometimes sacrifice academic progress for athletic improvement. 

So what is a young athlete to do? Give up? Certainly not! The answer is to get to work and start gathering the facts about college athletic programs and college admissions so you can make informed choices.

There is a school out there for everyone. There are excellent Division II and III, Intercollegiate club and intramural programs at some of the best schools in the country. Don't forget to consider them.

The key is to find the college that offers you the best combination of academic and athletic options. Get a realistic evaluation from an unbiased source (parents need not apply), work hard in school and on the fields, courts, and ice, and develop a list of options.

Finally, be honest with yourself both academically and athletically. Look in the mirror and be able to confidently say that you have both the academic/athletic record and abilities to excel at the schools you are considering.

ACADEMICS: THE KEY THAT OPENS MANY DOORS

The guiding principle in all your decisions should be academics. Academics come first, sports second, and social life third. The first question most coaches will ask you will probably be about your grade point average, class standing, and SAT/ACT scores -- not your athletic background. Athletic ability does not guarantee admission to a college, and more and more public pressure is forcing colleges to re-evaluate their admissions standards for athletes.

Former Notre Dame basketball coach and current ESPN basketball commentator Digger Phelps comments: "We have a serious problem with sports in our society. We forget that an athletic career is very short and team championships are just moments. Education is something that lasts a lifetime."

Your academic record begins in ninth grade and is based on college preparatory courses only. These include English, math, physical sciences, and social sciences (sorry -- phys. ed., health, shop, etc., don't count). Make sure you work closely with your guidance counselors throughout your high school years.

How important is your academic record? The better your academic record, the more options are open for you. I run into many parents and players who, when asked about academics, reply: "Oh, there will be no trouble getting into your school." Then the coach would find out he/she gets B's and C's and has a 900 SAT. Folks, that will not get you into a Penn State (main campus) or similar schools. A 3.4 cumulative G.P.A. (4.0 scale) and an 1800 SAT (new scores) are borderline to get into any of the better academic institutions.

HOW TO GET STARTED

Call or write to schools and coaches and get current facts. Request academic, athletic, financial and campus life materials. Do your homework! You must keep sports in proper perspective and select a school for the right reasons. What if you step on the field or ice the first day of practice and blow out your knee? Will you still be happy at the school? Some kids will attend a school, try out for the team, get cut and then realize they don't like the school and it doesn't have the major they wanted in the first place!

The key to choosing the school is to develop options. Many factors will play a part in your decision on which college you will choose. You should consider cost, academic requirements, location (rural vs. urban, geographic proximity to home), size, private vs. public, academic reputation, graduation and job placement rates, majors offered, financial aid available, social setting, make-up of the student body, etc. Make a chart that will help you to compare various schools. You should then divide the list of schools into three groups:

1. Those where you are certain to be admitted.

2. Those where you have a good chance to be admitted.

3. Those where you are a long shot to be admitted.

Plan to apply to at least two or three schools in each category. Find out the deadlines for applications -- they're sooner than you think! Seniors should be applying to schools in the early fall and making plans to visit the campus and to set up meetings with the admissions office and the coach.

In my next column: the campus visit, meeting the coach, and making informed decisions. Until then, hit 'em straight, keep your eye on the ball, and remember to have fun!!



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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