Let me preface this piece by saying that as a coach and teacher, there is much more I could do to help my student-athletes. I am aware of this, and I have carried this burden for as long as I have been a coach. It’s not easy, however. Because of the many responsibilities that come with being an educator and coach, coupled with the responsibilities I have as a husband, father, brother, and friend, it’s difficult finding the extra time necessary to help my players prepare for a possible playing career at the collegiate and/or university level. To improve his players’ chances, a coach must take on the role of “counselor” and have access to counseling resources. After all, helping students get to post-secondary education is an intrinsic part of a counselor’s job description, at least philosophically speaking. However, even for actual counselors, this isn’t an easy task. Counselors are overburdened with massive student loads, sometimes 450 kids per counselor. Add to this the plethora of responsibilities that counselors have to account for, including class scheduling, transcript explanations, parent conferences, A-G requirements, meetings, and graduation. It’s a seemingly unending line of duties, and if you’re familiar with the world of public education, then you can sympathize.
In this piece, I introduce an idea that could help high school athletes earn athletic scholarships.
As the head coach of a nationally ranked soccer team (Alisal High School) I’ve had the privilege of coaching some incredibly talented soccer players, and while a few have been able to continue their playing careers at the college and university levels, there have been many, many more that should’ve followed in these players’ footsteps. It should be noted that there is also a significant number of gifted soccer players that never actually get to play for their high schools because they have difficulty meeting their school’s eligibility requirements, which usually consist of a 2.0 GPA (C- average) and Satisfactory Citizenship marks. This is a topic for another time, though.
Getting an student-athlete to the next level is a challenge. In addition to having the proper GPA, there’s a list of qualifications that a student-athlete must meet, including specific class loads for specific Divisions (DI, DII, DIII, etc.), deadlines, GPA’s, SAT’s and ACT’s, and financial aid applications. What makes this even more difficult is that the road built to connect the high school athlete to an NCAA career is unfamiliar to many in secondary education, even to actual high school counselors. Counselors are the people that can facilitate the process for student-athletes, but as it stands, many counselors are not versed in NCCA Clearinghouse Qualifications or the “Core 16.” They couldn’t tell you what it means to be a “Qualifier” or “Partial Qualifier.” They don’t normally have to deal with this language, and so they simply do not know, and there’s no urgency to follow up and learn it. Of course, there are counselors that have some knowledge of this world, but they’re scarce.
What can I do to put my players in prime position to earn a full-ride, soccer scholarship right out of high school? I think about this a lot, mainly because I am surrounded by a vast amount of talent, talent that often goes wasted and unnoticed. It is a question that weighs on me heavily, but I believe I may have found an answer, or at least an idea that can lead to one.
First, however, let me tell you about Larry Beltran. A divine talent, Larry was a champion at every level of soccer he’s ever played. In high school, he was a two-time league champion, a California DI State-Section Champion, MVP, All-League Player-of-the-year, All-County Player-of-the-Year, First Team All-America Selection, and an All-Star. He was every recruiter’s dream, with Division II schools not even being an option. In fact, there’s even a possibility that Larry, at the age of 17, could’ve forged a professional career for himself had he been given the chance.
After his senior year, I received a call from the assistant coach at UCLA. They wanted Larry. The coach was reviewing the names on the First Team All-America list and noticed something odd about Larry’s name. Each First Team selection was coupled with the name of the university of which they had committed to play soccer. Larry’s name was not paired with any university. This part of the list was blank. He was the only one on that list that was not connected to a university. Naturally, UCLA was salivating at the idea of snagging an All-America player, one that had somehow escaped everyone’s view.
“Hi, coach. Just want to let you know that we’re really interested bringing Larry to UCLA. We noticed that he’s not committed to any school. What’s his GPA?” It was the first and only question he asked. “Well, I think he has a 2.2,” I said. “Oh, ok. Damn. I’m sorry. We can’t get him in, but tell him to go to the community college and play two-years, and maybe we can be ready for him when he transfers,” he said. “Ok, coach. I’ll let him know. Thanks,” I said. It was not a pleasant call. I really wanted this for Larry. Larry deserved it. His talent needed to be showcased. Unfortunately, when it came to academic effort and guidance, Larry’s four-year plan left a lot to be desired.
Larry’s is just one story of many similar stories. He didn’t have the grades. There was nothing the UCLA coach could’ve done for Larry because the first stipulation is that an prospective athlete must first be able to meet the school’s basic admission requirements. These requirements are set forth by the university and not the coach. The coach must abide by these requirements. Once the athlete gets accepted, then the coaches can step in an begin to construct a plan for their athlete.
Could something had been done to improve Larry’s chances of getting to UCLA, while he was still a high school student? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And this is where I present my proposal. It’s a multi-step process, but it’s not outside the realm of the infrastructure that is already in place at every high school in the nation.
To keep things simple, I’ll use my school as an example for the plan. I propose that every coach at Alisal High School, in all sports, pinpoints those athletes who he or she believes displays the athletic talent worthy of perhaps earning a full-ride or even partial-ride athletic scholarship to university in their respective sport. Even if the potential is small, these athletes should be identified by coaches.
Now, once these athletes have been identified, the load could range from 100 to 200 athletes, they would then be grouped together, and they would be assigned to a “Student-Athlete Counselor,” a specific counselor that is 100%, well-versed in the NCAA Clearinghouse language and is fully committed to ensuring that these identified athletes stay on course and in-line with NCAA Qualifier requirements. It would require vigilance on the part of the coach and counselor, with periodic athletic checks to make sure that the identified athlete is on course through all four-years of high school. Ideally, we would catch these athletes as freshman, but I believe it would be more realistic to identify them as sophomores, once coaches have already seen these athletes perform. The input of middle school coaches could definitely help in identifying freshman talent, giving us early detection help.
If Larry, a player whose talents were known by many when he was barely a freshman, would’ve had this kind of academic guidance, things would perhaps be different for him. He’d probably be finishing his career at UCLA, perhaps readying for a professional career. As it turned out, Larry went on to even more soccer success, helping the local community college earn its first ever California State Championship. This, of course, is not surprising given Larry’s level of talent. Now, Larry is doing his best to move on, but he’s caught in somewhat of a rut, three-years later, still at the community colleges, his two-years of eligibility used up, trying to transfer to a university. The talent is still there, but UCLA is no longer an option.
My hope is that Alisal High School will move to create this position and to give our student-athletes a fighter’s chance of getting to the next level where they should be.