Making the team at a Division I or II college requires you to do more than score lots of points and a letter each year. Only a few outstanding athletes are sought out by top schools each year, even though there are thousands of students with an amazing amount of skill. Market yourself by making contact with the people that matter in the arena of sports in college.
Sports in college: Get to know the players
If you're serious about playing a sport in college, get in touch with the coaches as soon as you know where you want to apply (if you're not sure where to apply, find a college by going through a vast amount of college information). Let them know you're interested in playing for them and find out what they're looking for in an athlete. Remember, unless you're big news in all the local papers, they aren't going to know who you are -- you have to let them know about you!
Your high school coaches probably have collegiate contacts and may be happy to make the first call for you. Don't be surprised if you are asked to provide information detailing your athletic accomplishments as early on as your first inquiry. Later, a videotape and statistics might be requested.
Keep in mind that if you're recruited by a coach, it doesn't mean that you're guaranteed admission to the school, nor are you guaranteed athletic scholarships. There's usually an admission officer who serves as a liaison with the athletic department and, while decision-making may be collaborative, it is the admission office that determines if you're in or out -- not the coaches or the athletic directors.
A coach's interest is not a promise of playing time, either. Coaches, at all levels, encourage more athletes than can ever fit on a bench. However, if you're awarded sports scholarships in Division I or II programs, it is certainly a good indicator that you're destined for playing time eventually.
Athletic scholarships: When you're hot, you're hot
If you're a truly outstanding athlete, college coaches may be chomping at the bit to contact you, but they must abide by stringent NCAA regulations. For instance, they cannot contact you by letter until September 1 of the beginning of your junior year in high school. Additional guidelines govern the initiation of telephone calls and campus visits. Check out www.ncaa.org for specifics in each division.
If you're in line for athletic scholarships, you may be expected to sign a "National Letter of Intent." The National Letter of Intent program is administered by the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) and has more than 500 participating institutions in more than 50 athletic leagues. Signing this letter demonstrates your intention to enroll at a specific sports college. It's supposed to help protect you from unfair or misleading recruitment practices, but it also assures coaches and athletic directors that you will show up for practice as promised. If you sign such a letter, you must abide by numerous rules, and there are stringent penalties if you don't.
Find a college: Gold, silver, or bronze?
The process of applying to college and pursuing a spot on a college sports team can be complicated, especially if you're looking at NCAA member schools. You can certainly consider other schools where you can still participate in the athletic programs, but if you've got your heart set on the gold, make sure you check out the guidelines, requirements, and procedures (the college information) set out by the NCAA.