It’s National Letter of Intent (NLI) week for high school student-athletes. I have a twitter account so I have seen lots of posts, celebrating the accomplishments of many hard working and deserving student-athletes. However, in the age of social media and in the age of recruiting that so greatly celebrates the signing of a National Letter of Intent, there are other sides to the narrative with regard to NLI week that I’d like to share.
As a former Major League Baseball scout and former Division I recruiting coordinator, I’ve been asked for a lot of advice and my insights over the years. I’ve run my own showcase for a long time (Bay Area World Series, est. 2004), I’ve worked for nationally known showcase/tournament/ranking organizations, and due to my experience, I’ve learned and observed things that I’d like to pass along.
The first thing I’d like to pass along is for the kids who have not yet had an opportunity to sign in the early signing period or not yet secured an opportunity to continue competing at the college level. There is a lot of glitz and fanfare and attention given to kids who have earned such an opportunity, and they deserve congratulations. However, there is another signing period in the spring. All the spots on college rosters are not gone after the early signing period. There are still opportunities for you. In fact, the NLI is only for kids who have committed to NCAA D1 and D2 programs. There are hundreds of D3 programs, and NAIA programs, and junior college programs looking for hard working and talented student-athletes. Even the D1 and D2 programs are not done recruiting after the early signing period.
There are non-scholarship roster spots at D1 and D2 programs, if that is the level you aspire to. There are spots for recruited walk-ons, kids who receive academic scholarships and those who qualify for financial aid and also for kids whose family’s can afford college out of pocket. There are only a few sports that are ‘head count’ sports, which means that every player on that team/roster has a scholarship. In fact, most sports are equivalency sports, meaning that scholarships can (and are) broken up into fractions in order to provide aid to more kids and again, not all of those fractional scholarships are offered and spoken for in the early signing period.
Ok, so that chunk of knowledge I shared isn’t a secret in this day and age. I know there are a lot of players/families that are aware of the recruiting landscape, scholarships, roster spots, early signing vs spring signing, different levels of college competition, etc. The next chunk of knowledge I’d like to share is different, and not always acknowledged.
Every player who gets a scholarship will not finish playing at that school. Scholarships are not 4-year guarantees at every school. Players who put too much stock in this part (the early signing part) of the journey toward being a college student-athlete will soon find themselves wondering what the heck they got themselves into when they get to college. It is fantastic that you have earned a scholarship, it puts you in rare (truly) company and it is a significant accomplishment, but it is only a part of the journey.
When a freshman gets to a college team, all of a sudden an 18-year old, maybe even a 17-year old, is teammates and sharing a locker room with 21, 22, maybe even a 23-year old. Think about that. The difference in competition, maturity, coaching, daily time management skills needed, and lifestyle (no longer at home with mom and pops) are night and day. A high school senior headed to college has just recently competed against other high school competitors, some of whom are a couple of years younger than a senior. This is not to scare anyone, this is to bring awareness of the challenges that lie ahead. Those challenges are real. The talent funnel gets tighter, the experience of the competition is greater, the stakes are higher (yep, the college coaches are paid and keeping that job has a lot to do with winning more than losing).
So, celebrate the NLI, for a minute, then get back to work. Start working harder than you did to get to this point, because if you don’t, the signing of the NLI will be the highlight of your sports career, as will your twitter or instagram post noting your accomplishment. Accept the challenge that lies ahead. It’s a significant challenge.
As for those of you still looking for your opportunity, whether that means a roster spot opportunity or competing at a smaller level of collegiate athletics or continuing your development at the junior college level (which I am a fan of), your not having the opportunity to sign a NLI is a challenge to you. You are challenged to keep working hard, but work harder. Your challenge is to keep your head down, your spirits up, and stay faithful to your efforts (academically and athletically). Your challenge is to not look around and concern yourself with opportunities that others receive, because their opportunities have nothing to do with you and your future. Accept the challenge that lies ahead. It’s a significant challenge.
National Letter of Intent week is here and soon it will be gone and it represents something significant. For those with the opportunity to sign, it represents one more step achieved on your journey, not the final destination. For those who have not yet signed or may not eventually sign, it represents that you still have work to do.
For both groups of kids, NLI week signifies that your journey is not finished.
Good luck to you all.