Written by Heather Pierson, True Lacrosse Minnesota Girls High School Director
While going through the recruiting process with many different athletes, one can’t compare their recruiting journey to the next. There are so many unique elements and reasons why an athlete chooses a school that feels like the right fit for them. Athletes tend to receive pressure from friends, family, teammates, coaches, and social media telling them they HAVE to play for a top school. Athletes begin comparing themselves to others and define their success only if they commit to a top school.
At True Lacrosse, we work to eliminate the outside pressure. We encourage our athletes to go through checkboxes of what they want out of their college experience. It’s their next 4 plus years, not anyone else’s; we leave it up to the athlete to decide what they’re looking for! I’ve witnessed athletes commit to a top school and transfer or even quit lacrosse shortly after a season with that program too many times. I think we as educators need to do a better job defining what each level of NCAA, NAIA, and club lacrosse entails so athletes have a clear vision of what may be expected and find the right fit for your commitment.
NCAA Division I
Lacrosse is the priority! You are expected to be an athlete first and be dedicated to your lacrosse training – expect to have no days off, especially during the season. Other areas to think about when considering Division I: larger roster sizes, travel rosters (yes, even if you are on the team, you may not travel with them), competing with and against the best, typically larger schools which translates to larger class sizes, the opportunity for in-depth education, and can offer athletic and academic scholarships (does not mean they will). Division I coaches can discuss recruiting with you on September 1st of your junior year.
NCAA Division II
Lacrosse & life is more balanced. Lacrosse becomes less of a priority (compared to Division I), but athletes still need to commit themselves to their training. What athletes can typically expect to find in a Division II school: smaller campus, more individualized help from professors, smaller roster sizes, playing time (never guaranteed but more times than not, you will get playing time within your four years at the college), athletic and academic scholarships. Division II coaches can discuss recruiting with you on June 15th after your sophomore year.
NCAA Division III
You get to experience college life outside the lens of an athlete. Athletes feel more connected with their classmates/friends than just their teammates. Other areas when considering Division III: smaller campuses, comparable roster sizes to Division II, playing time, only academic scholarships available, college coaches can talk to you at any time about recruitment.
A whole new balanced experience! These schools are separate from the NCAA; they are their own league. They are comparable to competing at the NCAA Division II level and offer athletic and academic scholarships. NAIA coaches can recruit athletes at any time and are not restricted to timelines (as NCAA is).
Academics, Social Life, Lacrosse. WCLA (women’s) consists of 82 Division I programs and 151 Division II programs. MCLA (men’s) has 74 Division I programs, 79 Division II programs, and 16 Division III programs. This is more of a commitment than just a recreational league but allows for athletes to play for fun and the social aspect of the sport. There are no athletic or academic scholarships offered through the lacrosse program. Academic scholarships can still be granted through the school, however. Many NCAA Division I colleges have a club lacrosse program, though they are not necessarily Division I club programs. Several other Division II and III schools have club lacrosse programs too.
What To Expect
The definitions above are subjective; expect them to change with each school or coach. Some Division I coaches may expect more of a commitment than others. Even with club programs, you may be practicing once a week, or you may be practicing every day. But how do I know before I commit which school will be the right balance for me? First, you must answer, what kind of balance are you looking for? An even balance between academics, athletics, and social life, or are you willing to sacrifice more of your social life to commit to your athletics? Side note: I don’t mention academics because that should always be your top priority!
If you are unwilling to prioritize athletics over your social life, a top school isn’t going to be the right fit for you. Once you have established the balance you’d like in college, you now talk to the coaches of the schools you are interested in and ask them: “What are your expectations of players? What does a day in the life of one of your athletes look like (off-season, fall ball, in-season)? How many hours each week should I expect to commit to academics and athletics? What do your players do for fun?”
From there, you can decide if this program meets what you want and need out of your college experience. Make sure to get on campus before committing. This helps solidify if the college is a fit for you. Be realistic to yourself! If you have set your goals high and you know and act on what it takes to be a top athlete at a top school, go crush it! If your goal is to be at a school with a lacrosse team, but you play because it is more for the fun of it, then focus on that! If you’re somewhere in between, that’s great too!
Everyone is looking for something different, just like everyone’s recruiting journey is uniquely their own. Don’t compare yourself to the next and set someone else’s expectations as your own. Find the right fit for your commitment. Enjoy this process – it should be fun! If you want to play in college, there is a program out there for you!
If you’d like more resources, please email me at [email protected].