As a basketball coach, one of the most common aspirations I hear expressed by high school basketball players: is “I want to play college basketball.” If I had five bucks for every time I have heard that, my house would be paid off.
Very few, if any, student athletes have any understanding of how hard it is to be a collegiate athlete. It is this lack of understanding that contributes to this statistic: 33% of all those who participate in a collegiate sport quit before they graduate.
Why is playing a collegiate sport so hard? Why do so many student athletes quit? I thought it might be interesting to answer these questions and help give some perspective, since odds are, more than a few of you who read this will someday have a child who says, “I want to play college (choose your sport).”
First, let’s address why playing college sports is so hard. For the purpose of making this easy, I am going to speak to the challenge of playing basketball.
Let me be very clear: college athletics is a business. I am not going to say there is no pressure to win as a high school coach, but most of that pressure is internal. For the majority of high school coaches, your career is not on the line. A college coach understands if he or she does not win at a high enough level, they will have to put their house up for sale. This alone changes the level of effort, focus, and commitment required from those who play collegiate athletics.
Most high school athletes, in any sport, aren’t challenged or coached in a manner consistent with what they will see in college. While I am often too hard on my players, I want to ensure my players, especially those who aspire to play college basketball, have some inkling of what it would be like to play for a coach who is demanding. More than once, in the recruitment process, a college coach has mentioned their appreciation for the fact that they don’t have to worry about one of my players running home the moment they raise their voice. Unfortunately, this is not the norm and the majority of those who will step on a collegiate court are unprepared for the coaching that awaits them. In fact, over my time as an assistant and college basketball coach, when I was recruiting, I was often looking for ‘Programs’ I could recruit, not just players.
Last year I had three players fully committed to basketball at a level even remotely consistent with that of a college basketball player. These players invested time not only in the gym but in the weight room. At the collegiate level, all basketball players would be required to lift year-round. The Monroe Catholic Boys Basketball Program requires much greater commitment than most other programs, but we cannot force our players to be committed.
Let’s return to college basketball. When players are told their commitment will be year-round, those who love the game, think “Wonderful, I get to play basketball every day.”
Only, now everything is different. How? When I coached college basketball, almost every one of the 12-15 players on our team was best player on his high school team. Once arriving to our program, the majority of our players were faced with the reality that they were just another guy competing for time on the court. Things that were once easy for them, were now hard. That shot they used to be able to get off now ends five rows up into the bleachers, blocked by a guy who looks very different from the players they played against every day in high school.
To summarize the “Why is playing college sports so hard?” aspect of this column, players have an entirely different level of commitment required by a coach who is much, much more demanding, at a level that is much harder than the one the player was used to in high school. This leads to a discussion about, “Why do so many players quit before they graduate?”
There are probably hundreds of reasons why players quit over the course of their collegiate career. However, I can tell you these really boil down to about three primary reasons:
1. The player is simply not good enough to play college basketball. This is probably the most common and may impact the others.
2. The player doesn’t love to play enough. Players who are faced with a new reality that requires them to play and compete on an almost daily basis eventually look around and discover they are not having as much fun. Now, they decide it would be a lot more fun to stay up all night playing Fortnight or put more time into chasing the opposite sex.
3. The player is not tough enough. Kids who used to start and play every minute of a game now sit the bench. Players who were rarely yelled at or challenged by their head coach hear his voice when they close their eyes at night.While there is a physical component to that toughness, the greater struggle will be mental toughness.
Over my tenure at Monroe, we have had three players play college athletics and complete their four years of varsity eligibility: Michael Stepovich (basketball), Scooter Bynum (baseball), and Tyler Wells (basketball). Jalon McCullough will finish his basketball career in a year and I am confident Jeremiah Bailey, who has two years remaining, will become the fifth Monroe Catholic student athlete to complete four years of collegiate athletics. This may seem like a small number. However, you would be hard-pressed to find any high school who has produced this many. When you consider our Monroe High School student body has never exceeded more than 135 students, this number is even more impressive.
Excerpt from the Full Curl by Frank Ostanik, CSF Athletic Director. You can follow on Twitter @thefullcurl.