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Athletics: A Gateway To A World Of Oppourtunity

Importance of College Athletics

The opportunity to play football at the college level was an experience that has undoubtedly played a major role in shaping me into the successful leader I am today. Growing up, I had always done well in the classroom, but, school was not a motivating factor for me. In my naÔve mind, my main purpose for attending both high school and college was to play football and getting an education was just something that went along with being an athlete. Now, as I reflect back on my career as a student-athlete, I realize that I did not go to college to excel only on the playing field. However, it was my passion and love for the sport that created for me the priceless opportunity of receiving a lasting education which will illuminate my road to success throughout the future.

Although I can admit that I went to college with the mindset that I was there to play football, in the process I somehow graduated with both a Bachelorís Degree as well as a Masterís Degree from one of the top Liberal Arts Colleges in the nation, University of Redlands. As a student athlete I unconsciously learned the lifetime skills of organization, time-management, communication, and leadership that extended to all aspects of my life. All the while, I was creating everlasting friendships, unforgettable memories, and the self-respect and confidence I needed to begin my journey as a self-sufficient individual in the working world.

Through my experiences working with student-athletes I have learned that a main deterrence for individuals seeking higher education is the financial burden. I, too, had the same qualms as I began to contemplate whether or not college was a path I was willing to take. I came from a low income, single parent home just as many individuals in our country do. My mother instilled in me the values of hard work, determination, and sacrifice which were driving forces in my decision to embrace the challenge of obtaining my goals of being a college athlete. There are numerous ways in which individuals can allocate the funds to attend a University. In addition, student-athletes have even more resources available to them in order to make the financial issues of college less overwhelming and in some instances almost non-existent. As a way to help finance my own education I chose to invest in student loans. Although I am now in the process of paying back my loan money the relationships, memories, and of course the education and training I received will remain priceless.

Too many student athletes today believe college is an unachievable dream. Their grandparents never attended college, nor did their parents, so they believe itís not for them either. Unfortunately, those individuals do not realize that the combination of their talents, skills, and passion for their sport is a golden ticket to the world of higher education. My goal is to educate both parents and student athletes on the fact that college is not only an achievable vision but a necessity in our world today.

Importance of Researching the Athletic Atmosphere

Many student-athletes make the mistake of attending a college before thoroughly researching the coaching staff and workings of the team. Parents must remember that the coaches will become the ďparentsĒ to their child throughout their collegiate career because it is the coaches that will be interacting with the student-athlete on a daily basis. In addition, the athletes must feel confident that their teammates, with whom they will be connected with very closely in many ways, are individuals that will create a positive and successful environment.

I was fortunate enough to have an assistant coach when I was in Junior College who turned me on to the University of Redlands. He educated me on the many strengths the coaching staff exhibited as well as the philosophies and work ethic of the team. Unfortunately, not all prospective student-athletes have a similar personal resource as I did. However, if parents and athletes are educated on the many aspects that encompass each team they are considering, finding a perfect match school will be much more feasible and a positive collegiate athletic experience is increased.

In my professional experiences, I have consulted with various athletes who began their collegiate careers only to return home after a few months due to incompatibility with a school for various reasons. The main complaint I came across was the differences in the experiences at and perceptions of the school from an official visit to actually being a member of the school and team community. Athletes and parents need to be aware that there are many crucial questions that student athletes should keep in mind when feeling out whether a school is compatible with their individual interests and priorities.

When evaluating the coaching staff it is very important to realize that many coaches will not present themselves in a threatening or confrontational manner when trying to recruit an athlete. The coaches will lay out the expectations and processes of the team in great detail, however in order to best understand the relationships that a coach develops with his or her athletes as well as the true personality of a coach the most reliable and informational source is talking to both past and present team members personally. In addition, it is always smart to inquire about the coachís long term plans of maintaining his/her position with the academic institution. If a coach that is recruiting an athlete is not planning on continuing his or her career for the entirety of the athletes stay at the college an athlete may want to reconsider signing with such an institution. Although there are always exceptions to the rules, a change in the coaching staff can drastically change the dynamics of a team which could possibly create a negative experience.

Next in line after ensuring that the coaching staff is a good fit, the next necessary aspect to delve into is the team itself. Student-athletes need to realize that each team they look into will have a different dynamic due to the various personalities and mindsets of the members. It is imperative that a prospective athlete feel as though he or she will mesh right in with the existing team members. Although it is unlikely that a person will become best friends with every athlete on their given sports team, it is extremely important that there is a sense of respect and support that permeates throughout the group. Student-athletes should be sure to chat with existing team members about the workings of the team as well as the friendships and bonds that are developed among the group. Observing and listening to the interactions and conversations that the team has with one another in both the competitive and social setting is crucial when trying to decide whether one will fit in with the group. Throughout the process of finding that perfect school student-athletes can never lose sight that it is the actual team members that will become the support system that will aid in the success and happiness of their college careers. In addition, those individuals will become the lifelong friends every athlete will cherish forever.

The third aspect of a school that should be researched is the attitude towards athletes throughout the general school campus. Some college campuses are more accepting and supportive of athletes than others and unfortunately a negative perception of the athlete population on a campus can cause problems for student-athletes. When visiting a school some strong questions to keep in mind in order to gain a better understanding of the way athletes are perceived are as follows: How are athletes perceived on the campus? How do professors on this campus view athletes? Do administrators come to sporting events? Do certain professors get discouraged when athletes leave classes early to participate in competitions?

Parents and athletes need to realize that the more information about a school and a team they can retrieve increases the chances of finding a perfect fit school. Questions about the coaching staff, the team, as well as the general school environment are vital.

Donít Rely on High School Coaches and Counselors

In an ideal world athletes would only have to concern themselves with performing well in the classroom and in the their specific athletic arena and in return the coaches and counselors would take care of the entire college search process. However, this is not an ideal world and student-athletes can not rely on anyone except themselves and their parents to research and educate themselves on the various factors pertaining to the college process.

While studying the field of counseling and education at the college level I had the opportunity to see first hand just how limited school counselors are in our school system today. Due to the Federal education standards in effect in our schools, such as No Child Left Behind, districts are forced to shift their priority to ensuring that students, especially troubled students, are meeting the set academic standards. Counselors are spending most of their time focusing on the individuals struggling with behavior and emotional issues, drug abuse, and violence. Unfortunately, this limits the amount of time and energies that counselors can spend helping student-athletes and parents in their search for higher education.

In addition, high school coaches are stretched very thin. Many high school coaches have classroom responsibilities as well as their duties in the athletic arena. Although most coaches always have the best interest of their athletes in mind their time restrictions make it very hard for them to make the very valuable contacts a prospective student-athlete needs. Things such as sending video highlight tapes to college coaches, sending written letters of interest and recommendation, as well as making personal phone calls to college coaches are all things that may not be feasible by a coach who is overwhelmed with other aspects of his or her life. However unintentional, the lack of support of coaches can hinder the chances student-athletes have in being noticed by a college or university.

Parents and athletes need to realize that they need to be proactive in the initial contact stages with coaches and college teams. Knowing application deadlines as well as academic guidelines of specific colleges is very important because these facets will differ among every academic institution. The internet as well as community libraries are a harvest of information concerning these details as well as many others including areas of study interests that schools are well known for.

Getting noticed is another suggestion for any student wanting to compete in college athletics. With athletics so competitive today, many students need to attend competitive camps just to be noticed by college coaches. Some students live and participate in very rural areas where no coaches will come and watch them compete, so traveling and attending a wide array of camps and clinics can be beneficial. Parents need to remember that high school coaches are contacted by the experts that run these camps in order to observe and scout potential college athletes. Student-athletes and parents should contact high school coaches inquiring about any information pertaining to these camps. In addition, the beauty of the internet can again be a valuable tool in researching specific camps help countrywide.

Many parents work with consulting firms who have made it a business to help with the process of getting student athletes into a college. Many of these firms offer wonderful services, and can be very beneficial. However, parents are sometimes paying up to $8,000 to obtain the assistance of these agencies. Many times these consultants will make empty and broken promises in order to sell their services. Because I am an advocate for children, and stress the importance of participating in college athletics while receiving an invaluable education, I am not driven by promising scholarships, or making statements I canít backup. My goal is to educate and aid parents and athletes in their active search of the college educational and athletic process.

The most effective and worthwhile way to get a student-athlete into a university participating in athletics is having both the athlete and parent work together in researching and educating themselves. This will empower both parties to take pride in laying the foundation for a life of success. It is important to remember that the earlier the college search begins the better off both athletes and parents will be. Take the initiative and begin your road to success today!

Submitted by:

Patrick Heisinger

For more than four years, Patrick Heisinger has been an advocate of communicating the necessity for both parents and their student-athletes to take the initiative of being proactive in their educational process. Through his company, West Coast Athletics, LLC., Heisinger has trained thousands of student athletes and has consulted hundreds of families all over the country about the importance the combination of academics and athletics plays in higher education. He specializes in educating athletes and parents about the many opportunities college athletics have to offer. Patrick graduated from the University of Redlands where he excelled for the Bulldog Football Team, and earned a Degree in International Business and a Masters Degree in Counseling. He can be reached at: Patrick@westcoastathletics.com

westcoastathletics.com





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