Whenever I begin a presentation on college recruiting, I always start with the following quote:
“These are four of the most important years in the lives of our children in that it will help shape their personal character and provide them with professional direction for the rest of their lives.”
I use it to grab attention of the audience, but I strongly believe in the purpose of the message. Depending on the amount of information families have gathered and the level of organization they have developed on college recruiting, will determine their “comfort level” as they navigate the college search. The college decision is a major life choice and preparing well for this opportunity will only increase the prospect’s chances in ultimately finding the right college match.
Utilizing a “Gap Year” is slowly becoming a more popular option for student-athletes who are either not sure if they are ready to attend college, need a little maturing, or require an additional year in order to bolster their self confidence. It gives these young men and women some extra time to step back, re-evaluate their current situation and develop a unique plan that will assist them best once they step on campus. Simply stated, most kids considering a gap year just need time to explore their interests or maybe just better determine who they are and what they want to accomplish from the general college experience.
Prospects considering a gap year will apply to their colleges and university’s of choice as any other student-athlete. The only difference would be that the gap year candidate would defer a year before beginning his undergraduate experience while his buddies would be a year ahead. If the gap year is a viable consideration, I would strongly advise communicating this with the college coaches early in the recruiting process. Each coach is different and their reaction to your intended plan will vary, so it is a good idea to come in prepared to clearly explain your reasons for deciding to take a “year to grow.” Taking a year off to simply think about what you want to do with your life will most likely not cut it with college coaches, but deferring a year to become involved in a humanitarian effort, take some additional classes, or become involved in a community action group will provide some “grip” in your decision and garner respect and stronger potential support from the college coaches.
Andrew is a current senior in high school and a talented soccer goalie from the Midwest, who also demonstrates outstanding academic achievement in the classroom. I think his dad sums up the gap year option for Andrew beautifully:
“The major complicating factor is related to his goal of pursuing soccer in college, since the coaches will not be recruiting him to play right out of high school, but rather following the gap year. Nevertheless, Andrew is fully committed to pursuing the gap year and has been honest and up-front with the soccer coaches at the schools to which he is applying. He has clearly communicated his plan to continue to train as a goalkeeper at the highest level even during this gap year, while engaging in several humanitarian projects in India. It is encouraging that the coaches have generally responded in a favorable manner.” John G. (Beachwood, Ohio).
Let the coaches know that you are planning to maintain and exceed your current athletic schedule and skill level through regular training and competition with club teams as part of your commitment in creating clarity to your future. The gap year is certainly focused on developing further confidence in the prospect, but there is an unwritten agreement of trust that needs to be honored with the coaches.
While the traditional admission route may be right for some students, some might question whether student-athletes are taking enough time to select colleges that align best with their academic interests, athletic goals, and personal aspirations. Some prospects are applying to schools that might meet some of their needs, without considering which colleges might be the right fit for them beyond the athletic experience. College coaches are certainly looking for strong students and excellent athletes, but these days, coaches are looking further out and for self aware individuals who have a “finger on the pulse” of their personal destiny.
The gap year is not for everyone, but it can be a viable option for the student-athlete that feels a bit anxious about “taking the plunge,” or they are not quite ready to embrace the college experience with confidence. What is important is that the students who choose this option have to do “something.” They can’t just hang at home or work. It has to be a transformative experience, one that will help them grow. The gap year can become a solid option for some student-athletes to consider, but developing a clear sense of purpose, sound judgment in your decision and effectively communicating this to the college coaches early on in the recruiting process will create stronger potential support, while positioning the prospect best for success
Tom Kovic is a former Division I college coach and the current director of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he provides individual advisement for families on college recruiting. Tom is the author of “Reaching for Excellence”, an educational guide for college athletics recruiting. For further information visit: www.victoryrecruiting.com