As a high school student athlete I took every opportunity to play. I played four years of field hockey, winter track, and lacrosse. I was the sweatiest girl in gym class and the first one to play any game of pick up that people threw my way. I loved every second of it and fortunately for me… it wasn’t because I hoped it would make me look “well rounded” to a college coach. It was because it made me happy.
I had opportunities to play lacrosse at different schools, but Rutgers was where I wanted to be. At the time, in the winter of my senior year, Rutgers had finished their class, but they gave me a “recruited walk on” opportunity. I was ecstatic and I jumped on it. Was I getting a scholarship? No. Was I their blue chip recruit? No. Was I getting the opportunity of a lifetime that I was extremely grateful for? Hell yes!
I worked my butt off and played, and after some time I earned a scholarship, albeit a small one. When I saw that letter telling me I was now a scholarship athlete, I cried. Not because of the money, but because I knew my hard work and dedication had paid off. And in the end I graduated as a starting midfielder for the #11 ranked team in the country.
As a college coach I have experienced a major transformation in the motivation behind sport and the gratitude associated with it. The world we navigate now is a business. What decisions do KIDS need to make to set themselves up for the most money at the “best” school? Should they play multiple sports or only focus on lacrosse? What club program should they play for because that will give them the best chance at the best schools? How much money should mom and dad pay a company to edit their video so every college coach will want them? The result? Young adults and families that have invested so much, their take on results may be affected.
As college coaches we see a marked increase in conversations that involve phrases like “but I work really hard so why don’t I play?”, “I’m in really good shape so why don’t I play?”, and “I came here to play, not sit the bench.” Qualities that past generations have recognized as the price of admission are now becoming entitlements.
So who is to blame? As a college coach I can sit here and point fingers, but I also exist in a world that accepts commitments from 8th and 9th graders and turns a blind eye to kids that stop playing for their club teams once they make a verbal commitment. I recognize which club programs send the most players to top ranked teams. On the other hand, I also live in a world where it is becoming the norm to find out from a third party that one of your recruits committed elsewhere. Phone calls thanking me for the time and effort my program has put into the recruitment of a student athlete are becoming less frequent. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely happen and I have received some awesome thank you phone calls over the years. But as someone who believes that the competitive nature of sport is about growth and life lessons above all else, I’m getting discouraged about our path. As the mother of a young daughter, I only hope that we are beginning an “old school” transformation that gets all of us back on track with what makes sport important.