By: Karlie Sneed
There has been debate for years whether or not student athletes should be allowed to sign a Letter of Intent (LOI) before high school. I am here to say I don’t think any athlete that is in 8thgrade or lower should be able to sign a LOI for an NAIA college. Personally, I didn’t commit to play softball until fall of my senior year. The process I went through to decide where I wanted to go was stressful and demanding. I had several details to consider before choosing a college. I think the process requires maturity and the ability to scope out as many options as possible. If one were to commit in 8thgrade, there would be potentially four years lost that could have been spent contemplating this life-changing decision.
The phrase “Take it or leave it” is not imperative to consider when choosing where to go to college. Some younger athletes have the idea they have to grab at the first offer to come their way, but that’s not true. It is completely common for an athlete to receive more offers after the first one. When I was going through the recruiting process, I was told college coaches are more attracted to an athlete’s profile when they have other offers in front of them. It’s just a common rule of thumb that someone wants something more if everyone else wants it too. It’s a popularity contest almost. Yes, your skills matter. But if you are able to accumulate multiple options for where you’ll end up or who you’ll end up with, it is much less stressful than feeling like you have to commit to your first offer or you won’t be playing sports in college.
It is easier said than done, though. Every coach has their own profile in mind when seeking potential players. If a student athlete were to verbally commit in 8thor 9thgrade, there is no promise they will develop into the player that that coach is looking for. Personally, high school softball did very little for my softball skills. I obtained most of my skills by engaging myself in tournament softball and practicing in my backyard on my own. Normally, student athletes are involved in some type of travel team outside of their high school if their sport offers it, but those who aren’t need to develop their skills through personal trainers or on their own will. Verbally committing, or specifically signing a LOI in freshman year (or ideally, junior year) and up would not only grant a player more years of practice and experience before dedicating themselves to preparing for collegiate sports, but also would ensure the coaches that their player is on the right path to becoming a solid collegiate athlete.
I talked to Robby Wilson, recruiter for the National Scouting Report (NSR), and received his opinion on whether or not athletes should be able to commit at a younger age. These were his thoughts: “I am absolutely for early recruiting. And although I’m against early committing, I don’t think there should be any rules limiting anybody from making their own choices… Early recruiting is good because it gives kids time to have fun and not stress, learn what they like and don’t like, etc. Higher chances of finding the best fit because experiences dictate preferences.”
So yes, why not go out and explore colleges at an early age, but don’t decide just yet. It is ultimately up to the player to decide where they want to spend the next four years of their athletic and academic career. My parents and I discussed my decision for a couple of months before I finally chose McPherson College. I narrowed it down to the tiniest details, and even though it was stressful, I knew I was mature enough, and prepared in both my softball skills as well as my academic abilities, to decide. Even as a freshman in college I don’t feel comfortable making big decisions. I say let kids be kids for as long as possible, and then when it’s time to start working toward the goal of being a college athlete, commit to the grind. Then later, if the grind got you a few offers, commit to the school that best suits you.