Congratulations on signing a National Letter of Intent to continue playing football on the next level of your career. For some, it is a reward for all the hard work you did during your high school career. For others, it is a dream come true. Either way, it is a major step of completion and a start in the next phase of your life. Since it is beginning to set in, here are five key points that will help you with your next step.
- You need to get in better shape. Many of you think you are in good shape, but we are here to tell you that you are not. Not even close. For every minute you are in the weight room you had better put five on the track because when you report to college, there is no acclimation period. You are expected to be ready to play. Many colleges provide you with their version of a summer strength and conditioning program but it’s a dog and pony show for many, and they will never have you pushed to the point to which you will be pushed on the first test of the first day of practice.
When you were in high school, you were simply Bigger-Faster-Strong than others on your team. When you go to college, everyone is on your level and being out of shape is a sign of a lack of commitment. Get with a track coach or a good strength/conditioning coach and get ready. Stay away from the internet strength/conditioning gurus who have never played the sport. Pay attention to the coaches who have been involved in the sport because they have the knowledge to assist you. Either way, it is important to be in shape.
If you think you are in elite shape, good luck, but almost everybody you will be competing against is three to four years older, wiser, and has been training far longer. Do yourself a huge favor and get some help.
- Be prepared to be away from home. For many players the quickest way home is to be homesick. All the glamour leaves your body when you are in that dorm room with no one you know. The next thing that happens could be negativity which may send you packing back home. When you get to college you will be on a new team with new teammates. Some will be helpful and some will keep it business. There will be times when you will be alone and have to face these issues by yourself.
If you are going to be a Division I player, you will probably report to college in June which might be far earlier than you expected. Yes, it is fun but after that 6:00 am practice in June, what are you going to do for the rest of the day besides go to class? In most cases you will be the only one on campus and if you don’t have a vehicle, then your options are even more limited.
If you go to a bowl game, you’re likely to miss Christmas break and you already didn’t have Fall break or Thanksgiving break. The next thing you know you have been gone from home for all but three weeks in a year. After the bowl game you will have about eight weeks until spring ball and then it starts all over again. Eventually, when you get older and tire of the process, when you do get free time you just pull up the blanket and stay in your bed.
For other division levels, the time commitment is not quite as time demanding but it is still very high. If you live further than five hours from home, then you are not just slipping out the door and going home for the weekend. In most cases, you still have the same in season time demands but you will get the summer off. However, as you get close to the end of your school the internships and summer work demands may keep you on campus much longer.
Either way, you must get your mind accustomed to spending time away from home which may be the enemy of players and a nightmare for coaches.
- Work ahead and be prepared for money situations. So many players will wait until the day of camp to address what their package pays for does or does not pay for. Even if you are a fully- scholarship player (not many of those exist) there are hidden costs. Some of those include dorm payments, computer, iPad, books ($200 to $1,000), and parking fees. These are just a few common fees that you may not think about unless you prepare ahead of time. Needless to say, there will be a lot of necessary money not included in your package.
If you are not receiving a full scholarship, then you must be aware of Pell grants, student loans, parent loans, mini scholarships and available from the school. Do not wait until the first day of school to get this done. You are a college student now and not a high school student. It is your responsibility to get this done. If you wait until the first day, time demands of football and classes could leave you in a world of trouble. So many players make this mistake and then have an enormous amount of stress placed on themselves. So, if you think you are far too important to do this and your coaches and school will do it for you, then you will be humbled very quickly.
- Keep your Parents out of the equation. Remember that all those nice things your recruiting coaches had been saying to you, well it will change quickly. In college, these coaches get fired for losing so they will put the best players on the field that will help them win. It does not matter how many times Daddy and Mommy call them over your playing time. You might be the best player but the coaches don’t trust you yet, so be patient. If you have a parent that has manipulated coaches in the past, then it might be in your best interest to have a talk with them. In college, they can go get another player next year with equal or better ability without listening to parents. High school coaches have to listen to your parents because Principals in general will listen to them. But, in college, the ONLY things that matter are the wins and losses.
If parents want to be positive influences in the process, that would be fine. Many parents have tailgates for the players, care packages of cookies and chips, and act as mentors for the team. The end the goal is to get a degree and that type of parental involvement is always welcome. If they think they can manipulate the system, that may get you sent home quickly. It isn’t tolerated it in college because they can go get someone else.
- You are there to get a degree. Very few players will graduate with a degree if the only reason they went to college is to play football. You are there to get a degree. Regardless of your playing time and experience, the degree is the main reason you went to college.
When adversity sets in whether in school, sports, and/or life in general, if the only reason you are there is to play football then it will become easy to leave. 99.9% of you will never see a NFL locker room or field so the sooner you recognize this- you will have more of a successful experience. There is actually an enormous number of Division II, III, and NAIA guys who actually believe with 100% certainty that they are going to the LEAGUE. The odds of that are minimal (like <0.5%) so wake up and get the degree.
The players who go to school to get a degree will generally have less stress. If something goes to wrong in sports, they will work through it because sports was not the only reason they were there. If something goes wrong with grades, they will generally accept help from tutors and study halls because they will want to get the degree. Regardless, if you come with the thought process to get a degree, you will be far more ahead for the ones who don’t.
These are five good ideas made by our Coalfields and Company staff to help you with your transition. This is the first in a series of articles to provide with helpful tips in this process. The key is to have some self-discipline, the responsibility to work ahead, and make sure you are going for the right reasons. If football is the only reason you are going it will most likely end in failure. If you want that degree and place most of the emphasis is on education, then you are more likely to succeed.