by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
By this time of year high school seniors have completed college applications for the schools they wish to attend next autumn. It can be equal parts stressful and exciting for student athletes as they consider the next chapter of their lives and athletic careers.
High School students receive advice from school counsellors on how best to complete their essays and applications. Football coaches help their players construct DVD’s of their best performances to be forwarded onto college coaches. It is my aim to offer specific advice to high school rugby players who are interested in putting their best foot forward with college rugby teams and coaches.
Obviously the time to begin preparing to attend college starts early in your high school matriculation by bearing down on your studies and prepping for SAT and ACT exams. The focus of this column will be on the “public you” that high school students create for themselves. By “public you” I am referring to your email address, cell phone voicemail greeting, social networking site home pages, et cetera.
Begin by creating a personality-free professional email address that contains your first and last name, or some variation, to use when corresponding with perspective schools. There are several options available when creating a new email address specifically for this purpose. Since many initial exchanges will be via email with prospective schools and team coaches, an email address that is straightforward and mature in nature says a lot about you as a person. A second primary contact point between you and your schools of choice is your cell phone. Think about your current greeting, does it present you as a person who is preparing to achieve success in the classroom and on the rugby pitch? If not, consider changing it to better present yourself. Once you have a professional greeting on your cell phone, regularly check and clear your messages.
Changing your primary contact details from those of a high school kid to that of a young adult on his way to college is a free and simple way to best present yourself to institutions and teams. Regardless of your current email alias, it is a good practice to use separate email addresses for personal and professional correspondence.
The next step is to review your social networking home pages. How have you presented yourself on these sites? Do the photos posted reflect what is important to you? Like potential employers, coaches may log onto social websites to gain a better understanding of the athletes they are in conversation with about joining their team. This is an attempt to learn more about the student athlete as a person. Again, think hard before posting or allowing friends to post photos of you that don’t reflect who you really are. Once photos are out in cyberspace, they are impossible to completely control.
Once the “public you” is in good order, work to gain first hand knowledge of the schools and rugby teams by conducting research and asking questions. Don’t rely on second hand conversations when trying to learn about schools, or teams policies and culture. This type of information should come straight from the team coaches. By conducting online research students can gain answers to their questions, while demonstrating a heightened level of interest for a particular school by knowing what is, and isn’t, on offer. For example, if a student is interested in earning a degree in a specialized area of study, they should know whether or not that degree is available at the school before making contact with the coaches. This will help in deciding if there is a good fit between the student and the insititution.
Fact-finding is easy through the school’s homepage, where basic questions can be answered about the school’s academic admission standards, fees and degrees available. Information about the school’s rugby program is typically available on the school’s site or easily found through a search engine. This information gathering may yield additional questions, and is a good starting point to initiate communication between you and the team’s coach. Further to making a direct connection, at Cal, we encourage players who are interested in playing rugby here to attend our annual summer camp before their junior and or senior year. This provides an opportunity for both parties to get to know one another, specifically the player can demonstrate their rugby skills while experiencing life on campus, and we get a chance to coach them for a few days.
Although not a lot of schools with rugby teams hold summer camps, it is worth looking into to at the colleges on your list. Another sound approach is to be proactive in sending introductory letters and video footage of your most recent matches to the college coaches. Again, these tasks should happen in advance of your junior and senior seasons.
There are a few things to remember regarding forwarding video that will make your efforts more productive. Be sure to make arrangements to have the video of your matches captured from an elevated vantage point. Ground level video can prove useless when trying to showcase your athletic abilities. Include a brief note with the footage stating your jersey number and color, the name of the opponent, and the date of the match. Entire match footage is better that edited “highlight” tapes, as they will provide coaches with a 360-degree view of your performance. Either way, the most important thing is to have viewable footage of you playing and competing.
Once the player’s senior year begins open lines of communication between the student and college coach will become more frequent as the autumn application window draws near, so be punctual in your responding to email requests for information and checking voicemail messages.
We were all young once but being a student athlete requires a separation of public and private life represented in your email address, voicemail, and social networking pages. These changes are achievable tasks and will be well worth it the effort in helping you find the right place to further your education and rugby career.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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