High School vs. College Sports: Differences in Participation Expectations

A high school student has accepted an athletic scholarship to participate in men’s basketball. The student has been a three-year starter on his team, and has received several conference awards. While eager to start his college career, the student has some apprehension around the differences in participation expectations from his college coaching staff. Below are some of the differences the intercollegiate freshman student-athlete will experience from his high school playing days:

  • The new environment will be challenging at first. The freshman student-athlete is now living away from home for the first time. It isn’t like going away for a summer athletic camp. Now the freshman student-athlete has to manage their time in getting to class, doing homework and projects, athletic participation requirements, daily living activities such as meals and laundry, a social life, and finding the time to get adequate rest so they can effectively manage the new environment.
  • The freshman, for the most part, is not the star on the team. The high school athlete is often a big star at their school. At the intercollegiate level, most, if not all of their teammates, were stars on their high school team. Some may even have been high school All-Americans or Olympians. Adjusting to the new level of ability, or no longer being the “star” can be challenging for a freshman. Having the mental and emotional flexibility to adjust to this new role is important, as is staying connected to their former supporters such as friends and family members.
  • Adjusting to new coaches and the expectations of winning can be startling for some freshmen student-athletes. Today’s coaches at all intercollegiate levels are under tremendous pressure to win, and that expectation is passed along to the student-athletes. Practice, conditioning, film sessions, community service, and media requirements are as important as the contests in the traditional and non-traditional seasons.
  • Time and physical demands. The student-athlete has many academic and athletic requirements put upon them as soon as they arrive on campus. Many athletes have to miss family functions, holidays, summers, and school breaks as a result of their team sport seasons. Additionally, besides the traditional season practices and games, there are non-traditional season practice and games, along with out of season and summer conditioning programs that are required for participation. The student-athlete must learn as a freshman how to adjust their priorities and time in order to meet these expectations and get adequate rest and recuperation in order to avoid chronic injury resulting from over-training.

The freshman student-athlete should be aware of the above considerations as they enter intercollegiate athletic participation. Being mentally and psychologically prepared to meet these and other expectations is important in having an enjoyable and productive intercollegiate athletic career and graduating with a degree in their chosen field.

Timothy Neal, MS, AT, ATC, Assistant Professor, Concordia University Ann Arbor

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