Flirting With Your Future

     What do committing to a college for athletics and dating have in common? A lot more than you may think.

     If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably thought about the possibility of continuing your sport in college. From what Oyster River High School seniors and juniors this year have described, the process is similar to dating. The process of committing to a school can be confusing and stressful, but can also be a very exciting time. Almost as confusing and exciting as dating. Throughout the process, they were often left asking themselves “do they like me?” or “am I good enough for them?” Along the way, heartbreak can also occur in the form of rejection letters. However, in the end, it is all worth it when an athlete finds their ‘perfect match’ and commits to a school they love. See the similarities yet?

     The process of commitment starts with getting to know the schools you might be interested in. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules, contact between coaches and student athletes for most sports can begin on June 15th at the end of sophomore year. There are exceptions for a few sports: men’s ice hockey can begin January 1st of sophomore year and baseball, women’s basketball, football, lacrosse, and softball contact can begin on September 1st of junior year.

     Paige Spencer (‘22) talked about the entire committing process and introduced the analogy to dating. She said, “it’s kind of like dating. You talk to a bunch of coaches and then pick whichever one feels the best to you.” Spencer verbally committed to swim at The University of Connecticut (UConn).

     After the date mentioned above has passed, coaches might be reaching out to athletes they have interest in and athletes can also make the first move by reaching out to schools they are interested in. Nadia Pavlik (‘22) verbally committed to Pace University for field hockey over the summer and said, “it can be scary to be the first one to reach out but you just have to do it. Send an email, put together highlights if you can, and a lot of schools have prospective recruit questionnaires on their athletic page that you can fill out so that the coach has all your information.”

     Waverly Oake-Libow (‘23) is beginning the process of committing to play lacrosse in college and said, “it’s really exciting. On September 1st one of the schools I really want to go to reached out to me and it was a nice moment because I didn’t expect anybody to talk to me on September 1st.” She also said, “[right now] I’m just emailing coaches back and forth, because after September 1st I could actually talk to them. I’m talking to them about what I want in a school and what they want in a player.”

     A lot of athletes choose to begin the process during their junior year of high school. Reaching out to schools early can show interest and that can be appealing to colleges. It also can help with forming stronger relationships, so when it is time for them to commit, they already have a good idea of what the school, the coaches, and the team they will be joining are like.

     So now you’re talking to some coaches. You really like them. After making connections, coaches will most likely want to meet you and come to a game, meet, or race to watch how you perform. Athletic director at ORHS Andy Lathrop said, “that’s a good sign for the athlete [when college coaches] come and watch [because] that means they have interest in you.”

     When it came time for coaches to come to one of Pavlik’s games, she said, “at the beginning it was a little stressful, but once I started playing I’d stop focusing on that and start focusing on the game and playing my best. As it got more normal and got to the point where most of the tournaments I was playing in, there would be college coaches, it didn’t really bother me.”

     Many students like Spencer, Pavlik, and Oake-Libow play for club teams. These teams can be an important part of the committing process for many athletes. Pavlik said, “I started [the committing process] pretty early because the club I play for does a lot of recruiting stuff. The head coaches are all college coaches and they have a lot of connections.” 

     Club teams can also be a great resource because older teammates may have gone through the same process. Oake-Libow said, “Three of my [club] team members committed in the past two weeks… It’s really cool seeing them going to all these great places.” Teammates who have already been through the process can help by being a role model and answering questions for their younger teammates who are beginning the process.

     Sometimes you will be emailing with coaches and they might lose interest (A.K.A losing feelings). This can be hard and can knock your self confidence but Spencer said, “even if you’re invested in a school that says ‘no,’ keep them updated. Just keep pursuing them because sometimes things change.” She also recommended to “talk to as many coaches as you can and reach out to a lot of schools because you’re going to get a lot of ‘no’s.” 

     It can also be hard to tell whether you’re good enough or if they even want you. Oake-Libow said, “I feel semi-stressed because I don’t want to fall behind in the process and I [also] don’t want people to judge me along the way. It’s really nerve racking.” She also mentioned that she has been working extra hard in school. She said, “[I’m not someone] where no matter what grades I have, I’ll be fine. Every school that I want to go to is pretty competitive so keeping up grades and balancing lacrosse life is a little difficult.”

     So you’ve made it through and a few schools are really interested in you. Time to celebrate, right?! Not exactly, now it’s decision making time. Of course, you wouldn’t want to lead any schools on. This decision has many factors. Lathrop said, “sometimes it takes some trial and error, visiting schools, meeting coaches to narrow it down.” 

     Spencer said, “I actually didn’t see myself committing to UConn at all.” It’s a school that she had known all her life since both of her parents went there. She narrowed her top three down in December of 2020 with UConn on that list. Spencer said UConn ended up winning her heart because of, “the UConn coach… I liked what he said the best about his team and what his philosophy was. That felt like the best fit.”

     Pavlik’s decision to commit to Pace University also came down to the coaching staff. “I ended up really liking [the coach] and her coaching style. I’ve been to campus a couple of times and I really like it. I’ve met a couple players from the team and I like the team. They just have pretty much what I was looking for,” she said.  

     So now congratulations are in order and it’s time to celebrate. You’re engaged! I mean verbally committed… After you’ve made your decision, you and the coach will talk and they will hopefully propose the idea of you committing to play for them and continue your education at that school. Around November is when your signing ceremony will take place. Lathrop said, “we’ll do signing days where, once [an athlete] commits to a school, we’ll have their parents come in and we’ll set up a table, take pictures, and they’ll sign their letter of intent.” A nice moment to celebrate your commitment!

     After this year-plus long relationship, you’ve finally settled down. Now you get to celebrate all of the hard work you’ve put in and look forward to the next chapter of your life with your dream school. So it seems like dating and committing to a college aren’t that different after all.