The Sacrifices of a College Walk-On Player


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With the ever increasing number of talented high school age volleyball players, combined with the constant in college volleyball programs, it has created a situation where many players are considering 'walking on' to a college volleyball team. For many talented walk on players, who were the best on their high school or club team, this can be a tough transition.

The term 'walk on' should only be applied to the NCAA Division 1 level, as the volleyball student athletes are either on an athletic scholarship or not. DI Women's Volleyball is not allowed to package scholarship offers, and college coaches are encouraged, if not told directly, to stay out of any non athletic department aid conversations. Hence the term, walk on to the team because the student athlete is not receiving an athletic scholarship.

With non-DI Volleyball (Division II, Division III, NAIA and JC) the players can package their scholarships among various financial support avenues and the college coaches tend to be more involved in this packaging process. It is because there are more scholarship opportunities, and the college coaches are involved in the packaging, that the term walk on does not really apply.

Because of the major media television support enjoyed by NCAA DI athletics and regional or alumni attraction for certain families, many players are happy to walk on to DI programs. The opportunity to be a member of their family school, to wear a certain jersey, to build their resume, etc., compensates for the out of pocket expenses of not having an athletic scholarship.

If a player wishes to walk on to a certain school, the bottom line is they will only be accepted if they make the program better. 

There are two types of walk on recruits: traditional walk on and walk on to scholarship.

Traditional Walk On
A traditional walk on recruit is joining the team knowing that there will not be a scholarship offered in the future. The reward is just being a part of the university's volleyball program and enjoying the experience. With the traditional walk on, the situation is simple.

Walk On to Scholarship
The walk on to scholarship player arrives to the team with a verbal promise from the coach to receive an athletic scholarship at a specific time in the future; the common term heard now days is 1 for 4 or 2 for 4 (2 years as as walk on and 2 years on an athletic scholarship). The positive is that you should have an athletic scholarship waiting for you in the future. The negative is that there is no guarantee that this will actually occur. It is a verbal promise, which will vacate with any coaching change, or if the program has the need to award this promised scholarship to an impact player because of some unforeseen event, then they will do this without hesitation.

Keep in mind, that with both types of walk on recruits, the players are able to receive non-athletic department scholarships: academic, merit and need based support. Quite often, with a good ACT/SAT score, the recruit can package together a healthy scholarship from the university. But, remember that the DI college coach will have no influence upon this packaging and is not going to hold your hand.

In terms of the actual recruiting efforts, there is no difference other than communication. If the player is focused on a specific school or two, and understand that he/she does not have the particulars necessary to obtain an athletic scholarship (height, playing position, etc.), then the recruit should communicate his/her goal of walking on to the team immediately. This allows the coach to place you into the category of potential walk on, which means they will evaluate you differently than a potential scholarship player.

There are the situations where the coach likes your ability and they will communicate to you that a walk on opportunity could occur, either a traditional walk on or a walk on to scholarship.

The importance of outreach and promotion of your abilities with email, video, season updates and (hopefully) an unofficial visit or two, still remains. Because of the popularity of DI schools, especially power conference programs, the walk on roster spot can be as tough to achieve as a scholarship roster spot. You have to put in the effort to achieve your goal. Just saying you will pay your own way is no longer enough, as so many talented players are saying the same thing.

It is important to understand that as a walk on player, you will not be a priority in the program. While you will receive the same apparel, medical support, academic support and facility access, there will be situations where you may be treated differently than a scholarship player. The scholarship players are the ones the program has made a significant financial investment in. These players will be the focus of practice, will see the court first and most often in matches, will guarantee to travel, etc. As part of the team, regardless of scholarship money, a walk-on will put in the same amount of work, have the same academic requirements, study table hours, conditioning, volunteer hours, and team meetings as the rest of the team.

For many talented walk on players, who were the best on their high school or club team, this can be a tough transition. Everybody wants to see the court, but at the NCAA Division I level it becomes much harder for a walk on player. It's important that you understand exactly what it means to be a walk on player, before making the big commitment. 

For related reading on the volleyball recruiting process click here. For more education on the volleyball recruiting process click here.

About the Author

Matt Sonnichsen is the Director of Volleyball and National Speaker for NCSA Athletic Recruiting. Matt has over 20 years of experience coaching volleyball at the collegiate level.


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