By Sue Stimmel, Associate Head Lacrosse Coach at Upper Arlington High School
After more than 25 years as a college coach and athlete, I began teaching high school mathematics and coaching high school lacrosse. When recruiting for a Division I collegiate lacrosse program, I thought I understood high school students. After 4 years as a high school teacher/coach, I have concluded I really did not have a clear picture at all!
Kids and High Schools Do Not Benefit from Early Recruiting
If you spend time daily with high school freshmen, you would determine quickly that they are clueless about high school, social development, individual identity… even personal hygiene. They want to be independent, yet need an overwhelming amount of guidance and direction. The maturity observed between underclassmen and upperclassmen is stunning. Their bodies change. They begin to have an idea of who they are and who they want to be. Seniors often reflect on decisions/things they did as an underclassman and laugh. The best part of teaching seniors, especially those I also taught as freshmen and sophomores, is the ability to see how they have evolved individually and to be able to have more mature and candid discussions. And even interacting with seniors, I realize how naive they still are. I feel early recruiting is bad because kids need time to grow without developmentally inappropriate external pressures. They are not ready!
In addition to these pressures, early recruiting discourages multi-sport participation, resulting in less well rounded athletes, specialization in one sport, and overuse injuries. Early recruiting also introduces a social dynamic to high school teams that focuses on individual performance. This is a time when kids should be learning to work with others, learning to deal with adversity, and forming lifelong friendships.
Parents Do Not Benefit from Early Recruiting
Communities that offer a wide array of athletic opportunities for young children are good for physical and psychological development. However, specialization at an early age through year round travel teams and camps creates a financial burden. This may also create emotional stress on the parent/child relationship. Even in conversations with parents who have had older children go through the college decision process without athletic involvement, they report feeling much more overwhelmed. They feel pressured to visit multiple colleges to create early interest and to make significant decisions without all the desired information, fearing their window of opportunity may close. The timing of these visits supersede family, academics, and athletic schedules. A well rounded student-athlete needs a balanced academic and social experience in addition to athletics. Early recruiting creates unnecessary pressure at a time when balance is already difficult to achieve.
Colleges Do Not Benefit from Early Recruiting
The IWLCA submitted two recruiting legislative proposals to the NCAA, addressing concerns about early recruiting. Support of this proposed legislation is important for collegiate recruiters. In my opinion, the potential negative effect on the individual athlete, family, and high school far outweighs the perceived benefits of early recruiting. Early recruiting is likely to result in recruited athletes who are not vested in the decision but lack the maturity to navigate subsequent change. With early specialization, I am seeing more and more overuse injuries at the high school level. Because of this students are more likely to arrive on campus with chronic injuries. Others may arrive burned out. College coaches are more likely to miss economically disadvantaged kids, who cannot afford camps, visits, and travel teams. Late bloomers are heavily penalized. College coaches are forced to make decisions without knowing the dynamics of a future team. This creates a false sense of security for both athletes and coaches because significant change in four years is inevitable.
In the past high school athletes played multiple sports for fun. By the time they were looking at colleges, if they excelled at one of their sports they went on to play at the next level. Exceptional athletes received scholarships. However, at some point playing in middle/high school became a means to an end. When I ask high school athletes why they quit a sport, many reply because they do not want to play in college or that they are not good enough to play in college. When did one become a vehicle for the other?
There are so many things that are great about scholastic athletics, but early recruiting is not one of them. It creates external pressures that are subversive to healthy adolescent development. No one wins.
Sue Stimmel is currently a math teacher at Franklin Heights High School and the Associate Head Lacrosse Coach at Upper Arlington High School, the 2013 and 2015 State Champions. She coached collegiately for 21 years, including 15 as the head coach at the Ohio State University.