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How to Win an Athletic Scholarship

How to Win an Athletic Scholarship

There is a lot of competition to win an athletic scholarship on and off the field. You can boost your chances of success, however, if you understand what you need to do to capture a sports scholarship.

Here are eight important steps that you can take:

1. Go where the coaches are.

Coaches have limited time and money, so they typically attend showcases, combines and regional meets that will get them in front of the most promising prospects.

Showcases and combines have grown in popularity in recent years and can provide coaches with more information than what they could glean at ordinary games, says Karen Weaver, an associate clinical professor of sports management at Drexel University, who was previously a field hockey coach at Division I and III schools.

You shouldn’t assume that you will be discovered at showcases. Let coaches know that you will attend one, introduce yourself during the event and follow up with the coach afterward.

2. Post your profile on an online recruiting service.

With a legitimate recruiting service, an athlete can post their profile for free and coaches can use the databases for free. Families pay only if they want extra services such as help creating a recruiting video or consulting with an expert.

There is a handful of large and well-known recruiting services in the country, including Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) and BeRecruited.

“I think it’s fair to say that in some form or another, every athletic program or at least 98% of college programs uses services like this,” observed David Frank, the vice president of digital marketing at Reigning Champs, which is in the athletic scholarship niche.

3. Character counts.

“When we scout prospects at games and tournaments, we look closely at a player's attitude and mental game,” said Sara Flinn, the head softball coach at Randolph College, a Division III school. “A bad attitude, rudeness to parents and coaches and an inability to handle and bounce back from failure or adversity well are things to look out for." Keep in mind that when coaches are present, they could be watching you on and off the field.

4. Know what goes in a recruiting video.

A recruiting video does not have to be professionally made. It doesn’t have to be a video stuffed with highlights and a catchy soundtrack, but it must show the athlete’s skills. Volleyball players, for instance, need to show how high they can jump and how they hit the ball. The video should only be a few minutes long.

“When I see a swimmer, it takes me half a length of the pool to know if I’ll continue to watch the video,” says Bill Wadley, the long-time swim coach at Ohio State University, where he has produced dozens of world-ranked swimmers and Olympians.

5. Own the process.

“As the athlete, take ownership of your college search, let your parents support you, but you do the work,” says Tanya Kotowicz, the Division I lacrosse coach at Quinnipiac University. “Research all aspects of the school academically and athletically to do your homework.”

This also means that students should contact coaches. While Wadley concedes that students are “absolutely scared to death” to call a coach, “It shows how serious they are and it shows forthrightness and passion.” In other words, just do it!

NCAA rules generally prohibit coaches from contacting a high school student directly before July 1 between their junior and senior year in high school. Teenagers, however, can contact coaches at any time.

6. Be realistic about your abilities.

If you think you can play at the college level, you’ll want unbiased opinions. If you are interested in Division I teams, are you competing at a high level in your region against the best players? If it’s a sport where competitions are timed like track and swimming, do your figures stack up?

7. You can negotiate offers.

The best way to get a better scholarship is to have more than one offer. When talking with a coach about money, emphasize how much the school is going to cost you after the scholarship is deducted. Focus on what your net price will be and not the size of the scholarship. A higher-cost school may offer larger scholarships, but still have a higher net price than other schools.

8. Focus on academics.

NCAA requires students to meet certain academic benchmarks. Beyond the bare minimums, however, coaches prefer students who excel as athletes and in the classroom. And it can be a necessity at schools where the admission standards continue to rise.

“At Ohio State, just getting into the school is difficult,” Wadley observes. “I can’t take a C student anymore. I can’t look at a C-plus student either. I need to look at A and B students who are competitive in the classroom just as they are in the pool.”

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, speaker and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on

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