Walking On to College Team as a Student Athlete
Many colleges — especially those in smaller conferences — allow students to try out for athletic teams in a process called walking on. Walk-on tryouts demand a lot of time and effort from students. With realistic goals and enough dedication, walking on to a college team can be one of the most rewarding experiences you have as a college student.
Communicate with the coach and show your interest early. College coaches and their staff regularly talk to hundreds of people interested in playing their sport. If you're interested in walking on at your chosen college, contact the coach early to discuss the possibility. Depending on your sport, you might need to discuss statistics and accomplishments before the coach offers you a chance to try out. Remember, they'll have already assembled most of their team, so the odds might be against you — communicate with the coach early to give yourself the best shot at success.
You might start out on the practice team or red-shirt your first year. If your tryout is successful, you'll be invited to walk on. Though you'll be a part of the team, you likely won't be given priority over the athletes recruited during the traditional process. You'll be expected to attend practices and work hard but you probably won't have much playing time. If you want more recognition, you'll have to earn it your first year — many athletes who walk on improve considerably, playing more their sophomore and junior years.
If your team is large or high profile, you might be put on the practice team or designated a red-shirt for your first season. If this is the case, you'll need to work even harder in practices to prove to your coach that you deserve to play.
You probably won't receive a scholarship. At most colleges, athletic scholarships are reserved for student athletes who have been recruited. Most colleges have a limited endowment and opt to allocate money to talented players they scout in high school. As a walk-on athlete, you likely won't be offered scholarship money. Also, you might not receive full support from the athletic department such as academic tutors and access to trainers. These resources are expensive and often determined in advance of the school year. As a result, you'll need to be even more prepared for the challenge of balancing practices and games with academic responsibilities.
Your hard work will pay off if you are selected and you'll have the experience of a lifetime. Even though you might not get as much playing time or attention as recruited athletes, your hard work and enthusiasm won't go unnoticed. Your teammates and coaches will appreciate your dedication and energy in practice and you'll get to live the life of a college athlete.