Opinion: The heartbreak, headache and happiness of college recruiting


Credit: Theo Ghosh

WSPN’s Deirdre Brown discusses the emotional side effects of college recruitment on high school athletes.

Deirdre Brown

The honeymoon phase of college recruiting is all the outside world sees. They see the fun trips, fancy gear and smiles while athletes travel from school to school fulfilling their dreams. So why would anyone really consider how athletes feel beyond that happiness?

Now, don’t get me wrong, the joy and excitement this process brings is like no other. As a junior in high school, I know where I will go to college a full year before most of the other peers in my grade. This is beyond exciting, but to what extent did I push myself beyond my limits to get here?

Starting from the beginning of my high school career, I was completely dedicated to playing lacrosse in college. I was willing to do whatever it took to play at a Division One (D1) school. For most of my summer, I spent my days traveling up and down the East Coast to play lacrosse and tour schools. While the rest of my friends got to enjoy beach trips and exotic vacations, I spent a whole summer dedicated to college recruiting. I didn’t get a fun, free summer like most of my friends, and that fear of missing out turned out to be the starting point of the mental roadblocks I would have to overcome.

As a rising junior, no D1 college was even allowed to acknowledge my existence until Sept. 1, due to the NCAA D1 rules. Mentally, this was draining. Everyone will always tell you that the summer leading up to your junior year is the most important time for recruiting. So after emailing 20-30 coaches and traveling around the country to play in front of them, silence was the farthest thing from helpful. There was no reassurance.

For me, Sept. 1 was a very long, hard and stressful day. Like many, I stayed up until midnight, hopeful to receive emails back from D1college coaches. To my great relief, I did receive a few. This felt like the first breath of fresh air I was able to take during this process.

This wasn’t a guarantee. For the sake of many who didn’t receive any emails or phone calls, I want to also address that feeling. Imagine you had just spent an entire summer of hard work and dedication and close to no free time, only to receive no acknowledgement from schools you had your heart set on. That is a lot of mental and emotional weight on one person, especially since most are 16-year-old children.

Even after receiving emails and phone calls, the work was not done. Let me repeat myself, the work was not done. In early Dec., I decided to commit to American University. That means that for four whole months after Sept. 1, I continued to work tirelessly at this already draining process. The mental effects of this process will stick with me for the rest of my life. In this process, it is so common to face failure and rejection. I heard the word “no” more times in those four months than I will ever hear it again.

At this point, the work only got harder. It was no longer summer. I no longer had time to travel to colleges every other day and sleep in during the mornings. School had begun, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Soon thereafter, I found myself so overwhelmed with the amount of work I still had in front of me. From Sept. through almost Nov., I was at a different college and a different showcase every week. I often found myself getting home at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. every Sunday night, just to go to school that morning. This cycle felt never-ending. On top of all of that lacrosse, I still went to school everyday. I was a student athlete, not an athlete student, meaning school had to take priority, and skipping was not an option. I still went to high school field hockey practice and games because I made a commitment to that team. There came times when I would have to make tough decisions to miss games in order to keep my recruiting dream alive. As much as it sucked not being able to play with my team during our first playoff game, the event I missed it for was a make-or-break in my recruiting career.

All of this hard work, and what was the outcome? What did I truly gain from all of this training and showcasing? For me, I gained a sense of respect and maturity as I put my heart and soul into others’ hands while deciding the rest of my future at the age of just 16.

The heartbreak of this process is like no other. After almost a half year of non-stop work, there comes a point when a decision is necessary. Often people think the hardest part is to hear no from a school, but the real hardest part is to say no to a school. The day I committed, it should have been a day of celebration and cheering, but instead, I had to tell the other coaches, who had been so supportive and kind to me, that I was no longer interested in their program. Sending those emails was crushing to me. I had a wave of guilt hanging over my head.

Don’t get me wrong, that day was still thrilling. As upset as I was, I had found my new home. My new family. Nothing can replace that. I know that I made the right decision.

Ultimately, the athletes are the ones attending the school; not their parents, not their coaches and not their peers. The final decision lies with the athlete. What I want people to understand and take away is that it gets hard. There are times you want to quit, but all that work and all those tears are for something.

Often, I hear the words “You are so lucky that you are good at sports,” and this sentence makes me feel invalidated. All of that “luck” is hard work. All of that “luck” is waking up everyday to work at a dream. All the “luck” is practicing non-stop because I have a goal to achieve. Nothing about this process is lucky, and the world needs to see how draining this process is for young high school athletes deciding their future. Athletes deserve their credit for what they worked for. Athletes do not just get into a good school because they are gifted. They get into good schools to play a sport because they worked hard at their dream, and I promise you that no opportunities would come if these athletes didn’t work hard.