If a high school athlete doesn’t get recruited by a college, it doesn’t mean his or her athletic career ends at high school graduation. He or she does still have a chance of making it to the college level as an athlete. There are countless stories out there of current major league athletes who didn’t have a single offer from a college.
For those who are interested in trying out, the first thing you need to do is to get rid of “trying out” from your vocabulary. It’s now called “walking on.” At the Division I level, it usually means you try out and make the team without getting any scholarship money. The process is quite straightforward, and it can be intense.
The coaches will be looking at you, your history, and your ceiling. For example, if you put up strong numbers in high schools (oftentimes also means you collect league, regional, and/or state awards), that will help you right off the bat. As you begin to compete, hopefully as a freshman, the coaches will compare you to the rest of the freshmen they have on the squad. If you can match or perform better than them, you’re going to be in a good spot. That is because you are showing them that you are capable of continuing to perform better as you get older.
The walk-on process is oftentimes day-by-day. If they like you after day 1, they’ll ask you to come back for day 2. If day 2 goes well, they’ll keep asking you back until they finalize the roster. There are also possibilities that they will ask you to go to the weight room with them to evaluate your physical fitness, do extra work after practice, and so forth. They will test your intangibles- your work ethic, commitment, and chemistry with the team.
For those who are second-, third-, or fourth-year students who want to try out…you have to be an absolute beast. I’ve only seen one athlete make the team as a walk on senior…that student-athlete was a monster in the weight room, outperformed all of the upperclassmen, and went all out in everything he did…that includes ping pong. He was only able to stick around for a year, but boy, was he a shooting star.
I’ve seen coaches explain to an athlete who got cut after trying out as a third-year student. The explanation was simple, “you are good, but you’ve got only two years or less left…while the freshman over there has four or five years to develop. Chances are, that freshman has greater return on investment than you.” Painful, but true.
My tip for those who walk on…outwork the captains. That will nearly guarantee that you get everyone’s attention. Show up 30 minutes early. Stay until coach tells you to go. There will be people who give you a hard time for “showing them up.” Good. They know they aren’t working hard enough. They’ll come around. Oftentimes they will make the walk on process a brutal one, but if you can handle it, then the rest of the year will be smoother. But you still have a long way to go, so take it day-by-day. Brick by brick.