How young is too young to make a commitment?

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Kayla Aldridge

The mere thought of college can be stressful to any high school student, and what used to be junior and senior year recruitments for sports have been pushed back to as early as middle school. What age is ‘too early’ for recruitment, and should teens as young as 14 need to begin worrying about it?

It’s no surprise that college is a topic at the forefront of most high school students’ brains. And while most students don’t begin to seriously consider colleges until their junior and senior years, student-athletes are having to think seriously about the subject at an earlier time than any previous generation.

When that favorite sport turns into something more than ‘just a game,’ students are pressured into making early decisions. College recruitment can be finalized anywhere from eighth grade to senior year. So is there really a ‘too early’? Does knowing where you’re going to college help alleviate some of the pressure from parents, peers, and yourself? Yes and no.

Girls’ soccer recruitment begins much earlier than boys’ recruitment. So compared to the boys, I got a head-start in the recruitment process. Early sophomore year my coach told me to create a list of schools I would like to attend for soccer. I must have looked at the same blank word document for hours.

With no idea of what to look for in a college, and having given it no prior thought, I chose colleges in places that looked appealing with a good program. I had no knowledge on the recruitment process, no idea how to go about selecting a school, and I could never have imagined being offered a spot to play on a university team in my sophomore year. Firstly because I still have room to grow intellectually and physically, and secondly I still need that time to decide what the best fit will be.

By senior year, you should know where you’re going for sports, so by junior year you should have a strong sense of which college wants you to play for them, and if not, then colleges should be in close contact with you, and that means that by sophomore year you should be in contact with coaches so that leaves freshman year for drafting emails. And as an underclassman, this is more pressure than I would care to take on. But for most, recruitment begins early.

Like a wave that comes out of nowhere, a slap-in-the-face wake-up call, athletes who were just last month thinking about nothing more than who they were playing next weekend are now being pressured into thinking about who they’ll be playing in college. They’re being forced to  come up with lists and contacting coaches-all really without knowing what’s going on. And to think that this is extra work on top of a busy schedule filled with clubs, school-work and a social life.

We are told “school before sports,” and quite frequently we put sports ahead of school. Why? Because recruitment for sports is no longer a matter of waiting for talent to come find you. It’s a race. No matter which path you choose to pursue it by, nobody wants to lose. College is placed too far down a high-schoolers list, especially for athletes.

As most have figured out by now, freshman year should be about developing. As for the recruits who committed to a college when they were in 8th grade, how on earth do they know where they want to go? They didn’t, and this is the issue. Early recruitment pressures kids to make early decisions about topics for which they are unprepared and uneducated.

To give the National Collegiate Athletics Association, (NCAA) some credit, they placed restrictions on the age that recruitment conversations can take place in an attempt to prevent the recruitment of athletes who are so-called “too young”.

DI and DII schools aren’t allowed to contact students directly until Sept. 1 of junior year, and they may call or text as often as they please after July 1st after junior year. While the restrictions have proved to be fairly effective, they aren’t enough, and this is why early recruitment is happening.

And while that rule applies to DI and II schools, it doesn’t apply for DIII: any DIII school may contact an athlete through email. Is the rule effective, necessarily? Not always. These rules don’t exclude DIII from contacting students through coaches and other loopholes. This is where the stress begins, and it doesn’t end until we accept commitment.

Another part of the issue is that there are fewer spots available and a higher level of interest, so recruitment begins much earlier especially for girl’s sports. When recruitment technically ‘begins’, people are able to officially commit if they haven’t done so verbally already.  And although a verbal commitment isn’t official because of NCAA rules, it is in essence an informal pledge to that given university.