At the request of an aquaintance, I recently asked Fred Hargadon and Don Betterton what they thought about college sports strategizing. More specifically, I asked them if parents should steer their children into playing one sport over another in order to enhance their children’s changes of being recruited by colleges as student-athletes down the road. Here is what Fred and Don had to say:
Picking a sport to play for the purpose of strategizing about college admissions is foolish. A young person ought to play any sport only if he or she really enjoys it and continues to gain personal satisfaction from being involved in it on a regular basis and regardless of whether it will ever play a role in his or her admission to college. One of my all-time favorite applicants was a young man who explained that despite his having been on his school’s varsity soccer team for four years, he wanted us to know that he was the worst player on the worst soccer team in his state, hardly ever got into a game, and had stuck it out simply because he loved soccer and enjoyed the practices. He was admitted.
Former dean of admission at Swarthmore, Stanford, and Princeton.
It is hard to strategize participation in sports, especially since most children naturally concentrate where they are interested and show ability. Besides, even for mainstream sports, it is hard to know when good fortune will be on a particular applicant’s side — like a college needing a field-goal kicker, an ice hockey goalie or a volleyball setter in a given recruiting class. In other words, the rules of supply and demand may, in a given situation, put a player with modest but specialized talent higher on a college coach’s recruiting list than a “better” all-around player.
If there is any advice I would give, it would be marginal and for women where Title IX effects recruiting. A solid, all-around female student-athlete might consider concentrating on an emerging sport like lacrosse, crew or ice hockey. While such sports are in the process of expanding, they currently rank low in participation at the youth level.
I cannot see much useful strategizing on the men’s side. Virtually all men’s college sports are mainstream and well-established. If a male student-athlete chooses to focus on a minor sport that requires more specialized skills, like wrestling or gymnastics, he runs the risk of the sport being eliminated by the college before he applies.
For what it is worth, while I think children should be exposed to many different sports, they should only seriously pursue the ones they truly enjoy playing. There is plenty of time after college for strategizing.
Certified College Planner and Former Director of Financial Aid at Princeton University