Athletic Quest Reveals Why ‘Walk Off’ May be Better Decision for Student Athlete Than ‘Walk On’

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Coaches at Athletic Quest advise student athletes about the reality of enticing college invitations, what those invitations really mean, and how to make the best decisions. Understanding the choices may prompt the option to "walk off" rather than "walk on."

The college recruiting process can be a confusing whirlwind. When a student athlete gets invited to “walk on” to a college sports team, it may feel like you’ve been voted king or queen of the prom. However, an invitation to “walk on”, a term used loosely by college coaches to invite athletes to “tryout” for joining a college team without benefit of athletically-related scholarship, may be the moment when your best choice is to “walk off.”

“The road to college recruiting is paved with invitations,” reports Coach John Scott, president and CEO of Athletic Quest, an expert team of current and former college coaches. “Parents and student athletes need to know what the different types of invitations really mean.”

College coaches invite hundreds of players to “walk on” to their teams every year: “We really like you, you qualify academically, you’re a good athlete. But here’s my only problem. We’ve already committed all our athletic or college scholarship money for this year.”

Tens of thousands of high school student athletes receive that kind of invitation from college coaches. Most student athletes think that invitation represents a commitment. But it doesn’t work that way. “If the coaches don’t help you get funding or a scholarship and they don’t tell you where you are on their ‘depth chart’ — first team, second team, third team or red shirt — then you’re walking into a mistake.” (The term ‘red shirt’ means the student athlete is a full time student usually paying their own way and is delayed from participation on a team; he or she may practice but doesn’t compete.)

Many student athletes dream of playing at Duke, Stanford, USC, Kentucky, LSU or other big name colleges. But then reality sets in. “Let’s say you’re a junior or senior in high school and you or your coach haven’t had any phone calls from these college coaches. This means you’re not on your dream college’s recruiting list,” explains Coach Scott.

So here are the options:
Option #1: Ask the college coach if there’s a possibility of interest in the near future.
Option #2: Face the fact that most NCAA Division I coaches recruit student athletes in ninth and tenth grades in anticipation of high school graduation. NCAA Division I programs start their process very early, and if junior or senior year arrives and no contact has been made, the truth should be very clear.

Scholarships and actually playing sports are critical to most student athletes. The dream college simply may not fit the bill. “Expand your list of colleges,” advises Coach Scott. “Approach colleges that fit your level of playing ability, as well as your academic qualifications. Find colleges that need your player position. Make sure communication is consistent with those colleges.”

Here’s another tempting scenario. The coach may say, “I’m impressed with you; you were assertive, looked me in the eye, you’re a good athlete and a good student. Here’s what you should do. Go fill out an admissions application. Let me know when you’re admitted. I’ll let you know when the first day of practice is, which is tryouts.” In this case the Coach has probably not made a commitment.

“Pay attention to the phrases made by the Coach,” challenges Coach Scott. “That was a bit of a trick. Notice how many times the word 'if' is used and if these were truly any promises made.

There are other red flags to look for: “When I say ‘walk on means walk off,’ a couple of issues are at hand,” says Coach Scott.

Issue #1: Student athletes should be invited to try out. Coaches won’t allow just any student athlete on the field with college athletes just because they want to try out. Student athletes often presume they can just show up practice and try out for football, soccer, volleyball, etc. It doesn’t work that way.

Issue #2: It doesn’t cost college coaches anything to invite student athletes to ‘walk on’ without promise of scholarships or a guaranteed roster spot. An NCAA Division I tennis coach once said he didn’t understand why his athletic director and school administrator said he could initially carry 30 players on his team, but after one month he needed to cut it down to 15. The reason was those 30 players contributed financially to the school’s budget. When the school has an extra 75 to 100 football players and another 100 for other sports who aren’t actually playing — those students often pay full retail for admission fees, tuition and housing — and the college makes money. Most of them would have to walk off, but approximately 80% would stay on campus, even though they’re not playing sports, which continues to add to the college’s bottom line.

Issue #3: Knowing whether a coach is interested in the athlete is paramount. The coach will call the student athlete on a regular basis every 7-14 days. The coach extends an invitation for a campus visit that will last from a half-day to two days so the student athlete can interact with their college team. The coach will help get some kind and some amount of funding for the student athlete.

“It’s important to understand that ‘walking in’ is different than ‘walking on,’ and that ‘walking in’ and not being invited to ‘walk on’ means you’ll be asked to ‘walk off,’” states Coach Scott.

RECRUITING TIP: Ask coaches if you’re being given a Preferred Walk-On Spot. (This means you are guaranteed a roster spot on the team.) If not, keep walking!

Athletic Quest can be contacted by visiting or by calling 888.803.5157. Call Athletic Quest for a free evaluation ($50.00 value) or to visit with a college coach recruiter.

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