A Letter to High School Athletes,

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This is an exciting, yet stressful time for you. One sport, two sports, three sports, National Honors Society, mock governments, club or travel ball, SAT, ACT, GPA, and more – you have or will put a lot into your four years of high school. So much of those efforts are to set you up for a four-year experience at your dream college. So let's talk about your dream college.

It's Only a Name

I have coached and been a part of programs in the Big Ten, Summit League, and WAC of NCAA DI, the Crossroads League of NAIA, and the N4C of NJCAA DIII; needless to say, I have seen this process from a multitude of angles. In that time, nothing has become clearer to me than how much attention a recruit, their family, and their school or club gives to a logo. A large block letter, a roaring lion, a screeching bird all mean much more than their 3x5 inch presence on a polo, email, or envelope. They signify status and accomplishment; the fact that all the blood, sweat, tears, and dollars over a grueling prep career were worth it.

That one tweet or Instagram post, the one with your picture in front of a campus monument or a coach paired with that logo and note about how blessed you are to receive an offer or to continue your athletic and academic career at _________, is what it all comes down to. Only, notifications will slow down and people will swipe on and you are now locked into a four-year commitment at an institution that will play a large role in how the rest of your life will pan out. Be sure there was more to your decision than the colors, the name, or that logo.

22% of Your Life

In spite of the fear that I may begin to sound like an old man yelling at you to get off his stoop, I'll continue. At this point, four years is (at most) 22% of your life-span. That is a large chunk of life to play around with. College is supposed to be "the greatest time of your life", the time of great personal discovery. Ask a parent, neighbor, or relative who has been through it and none of them will say that college was just a blip for them, it is a meaningful period for everyone who experiences it. All that to say, there is no reason to rush through any decision this meaningful for any reason. I understand early recruitment trends, and I dislike the pressure they place on you – the student-athlete. However, take a piece of advice from that old man on a stoop, you'll regret making the wrong decision.

Where Do You Fit?

One of the most popular words I have heard in both athletic and admissions recruiting pitches in recent years has been "fit". For good reason, your fit is everything I have been talking about. What school has what you are looking for? What school has the culture, the feel, the major(s), the pond, the dorms, the commitment level, the coach, the locker room, the weight room, the lecture hall, the financial package, the professors, or the jerseys you like? Do you want to go to a big school, a small school, a school on the coast, a school close to home, a Christian school, a private school, or a beauty school? These and hundreds of other questions are necessary to determine where it is, exactly, that you fit. I would heavily encourage you to ask yourself these questions and use that, rather than colors or logos, to make your decision. Transfer rates across all levels of college athletics are through the roof. The image below shows you NCAA Division I's transfer rates. For the most part, the rate only increases at lower levels.

Photo courtesy of NCAA.org

Men's Basketball and Baseball athletes can look around the gym their freshmen year and know that 1 out of every four teammates won't be there when they graduate. So many high school athletes are missing on their right fit for the right get. While there are some positive and good stories that stem from transferring institutions, few positives can be gained from uprooting your life and expected future because the school you chose was not the right fit for you.

What's Important Now

In order to win this process, you need to be patient, intelligent, and open-minded. Don't get caught up in small things. For example, if you trust my previous paragraph and questions you should ask when selecting a school, a coach is only 8% of your overall decision. And as a coach, I think that is an appropriate amount. I want nothing more than for a recruit and their family to love who I am and to buy in to what we are building with my program, but I also want them to realize I am a small piece to the overall puzzle. You attend college for a degree, a life-changing experience, and a jumpstart to the rest of your life. Your college coach will play a role in all of that, just not as big of a role as you may initially think.

The recruitment process places the coach at the forefront of the collegiate experience, but as you have seen this far it is only a small piece – and it's a piece that may not even be there when you arrive. Make your selection based on the immovable pieces of an institution. The academic programs and reputation, the buildings or campus, the feeling you have when walking around the university or meeting students; those are the factors that will stick with you. The rest, the players on the team, the coach, even wins and losses, can all fade.

Final Thoughts

Never rule out junior college because you think it is beneath you. The talent and level of NJCAA athletics may stun you and it could be the smartest financial decision you could ever make.

Never look past a logo you don't recognize. Your dream school may be a color, an animal, or an odd four letter combination you've never seen before.

Never ignore a school because they can't offer you a full-ride. Contrary to some beliefs, full-ride offers are such a scarcity throughout all of college athletics that the best place for you may be offering you all they've got. You've worked too hard for this experience – make it right and make it count.

For related reading for junior volleyball players click HERE. For related reading on the volleyball recruiting process click HERE.

About the Author

Head coach Kyle Shondell is in his 4th year at the helm of the Huntington University volleyball program. Shondell has wasted little time rewriting the record books by guiding his team to more wins each season over the last three years than had been recorded since 2009. His 2015 team also holds the all-time program record for conference wins in a season.

Shondell's teams are mainstays in the NAIA statistical rankings. Finishing as high as 16th in blocks/set (2015) and as high as 24th in digs/set (2016). In his first three seasons at HU, Shondell's athletes have earned 19 All-Conference honors and five NAIA Scholar-Athlete accolades.

To go along with Shondell's success at Huntington, he also brings a history of well-documented experience to the position. In addition to serving as the first assistant at Western Illinois University and Chicago State University, Shondell has a year of head coaching experience at Rock Valley College where his team finished the 2013 season 21-19 and ranked #8 in the final NJCAA Division III poll.


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