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Next Level Athletes vs. High School Athletes: Expectations and Realities

By: Clara LeConte


High school athletes have many things on their minds: if they will win their next competition, if they will play well in the competition, or if they will have to run the next day at practice. Another pressing question that is often thought about is: “am I good enough or do I even have the desire to play in college?”


From a young age during your Park and Rec sports days, you’ve thought about competing at the next level, whether that level is playing on the middle school team or making the varsity squad. The intensity of this idea really starts to sink in during high school.


So, when this thought starts to intensify in your mind, you can’t help but think about what would be expected of you in college, and more importantly, what needs to be done now to get yourself there.


Mrs. Wilke, a teacher at Central DeWitt High School and former collegiate softball player, reflects on her days of competing. She considers how she didn’t expect enough for her college career. While you may be thinking that extra five minutes in the batting cage or shooting free throws isn’t worth it, Wilke would have to disagree.


“I wished I would’ve pushed myself earlier and stepped up more in college,” Wilke discussed.


She mentions how she would have worked a lot harder from a younger age to prepare herself for the next step. She would have stayed after practice to take more ground balls or spent a couple extra minutes in the batting cage.


Sports and competing at the next level has changed in recent years. Playing on AAU, club, and travel teams are ways athletes gain experience to continue their athletic career. However, just playing on these teams doesn’t mean you're going to get a D1 offer right away. There’s much more you have to put into it.


Lauren Walker, a junior and star basketball player at Central DeWitt, demonstrates this principle. While Walker does play on an AAU basketball team, that’s not the only reason why she’s a star. You can see her shooting before and/or after practice nearly everyday. Similarly to how Wilke said she wished she would have put in the extra work, this is part of the dedication you have to have to advance into college athletics.


In talking to Walker, she expressed some of her goals and expectations to continue her career.


“I have talked to colleges such as Lindenwood University, Nebraska Kearney, and more,” she commented.


She says that there are many components to reaching her goal of competing at a high level D2 or low level D1 school: having good time management, good eating habits, being prepared to be challenged, being competitive, and getting good grades are just a few. These expectations can be validated by another former player, Mr. Shelby, who is also a teacher at Central DeWitt High School.


Mr. Shelby is a former baseball player who was drafted by the Yankees out of high school. Although he never competed in college, like Walker strives to, many of his preparations for the professional level are similar to hers for the collegiate level.


He mentioned how he wasn’t the best student in high school and wished he had focused more on school. He also said a change for him at the professional level was that he had to keep his nutrition in mind to take better care of his body. His claims show that whether you are wishing to advance to playing in college or to playing professionally, many of the elements and preparations are similar.


Another thing that Shelby mentioned that may not always be on the mind of teenagers is how to prepare mentally. While in high school, he was naturally at the top when competing in sports. However, that all changed when he reached the pros.


 “It was a 365 day job”, he described.


Even in high school, he wished he could have moved to Florida to give himself the chance to play all year round. Learning new ways to be positive was a challenge, but a necessity. Behind the scenes and off the field, he constantly had to study his opponents. For him as a pitcher, this meant studying spray charts to know whether specific batters typically pull the ball, what count they hit in, and much more. This extra work that is put in is an aspect that may be overlooked by high school athletes.


While making the decision of playing in college as a high school athlete seems like a pressing matter, it’s not a decision that is made overnight. You have to evaluate the physical and mental aspects and preparations of what it takes to be a collegiate athlete. While this drive and perseverance is needed, you will probably never be fully prepared for the next step. But that’s why you must think about these details, so that when you do reach the next step, you can work to be the best you can be.


Even if you’re a high school athlete that’s not thinking about playing in college, much of the work ethic is the same. If you strive to be a successful athlete in high school, you have to work like you want to advance to the next level. Implementing a good work ethic is a good way to kick off or end your athletic high school career. These skills are characteristics that can be useful throughout the rest of your life, no matter where you end up.


So when you’re thinking about making the decision whether or not to play a sport in college, just remember the steps that must be taken now and in the future to grasp your goals and ambitions. 

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