This is the week of the Summer Olympics, a good time to write a post on how a college-bound future Olympic athlete should consider colleges with Olympic-level competition in their future. This post will consider the individual medal sport athletes as opposed to team sports.

It’s far from usual for an Olympian to be “made” before s/he goes to college. Many of the best gymnasts in the world in their day, for example, earned medals before they ever set foot on a college campus. However, most potential Olympic athletes benefit greatly from college coaching. Olympic wrestlers, for example, have come out of schools such as the University of Iowa, Iowa State, Penn State and the University of Oklahoma. Another prominent example, track star Jesse Owens, was coached at Ohio State.

A prospective Olympic athlete is not like a college football or basketball player who is developing at their craft with an eye towards a professional contract three or four years down the road. S/he might be attending college during their window to qualify for the Olympic Games, and return to school after the Games are over. S/he might also want to compete for several years after earning a college degree, and want to work with a college coach who will be there for them when s/he needs help. S/he might also want to compete for a home country other than the United States–for example, a current Rutgers undergraduate is competing for Macedonia in the 2016 Olympics–and need to know a coach who is familiar with that country’s coaches.

A potential college-bound Olympic athlete in an individual sport has likely been well coached through high school and could continue to be coached by that coach. If that is a college student’s main interest, s/he should attend a school close to that coach and forgo college-level competition. It would be the student’s responsibility to juggle classes, workouts, practices and competitions. It might also mean that college will take longer to complete, if this student needs to devote more time to training as the major Olympic-level competitions draw closer. Another suggestion: Have a good insurance policy in case of injury. A college’s health plan will likely do little to help a student-athlete who is injured in a practice or event that their school is not a participant.

But what if a college degree is a serious goal, along with the satisfaction of helping a college team win a conference championship or tournaments at a higher level?

Then the college-bound potential Olympic athlete needs to consider:

  • The coach. Has this coach worked with student-athletes who had similar potential? What successes did their achieve? How is s/he regarded in their sport? What do the current members of the team say about the coach? Is the coach on committees that handle the rules for the sport or been selected to coach Olympic teams? Has the coach supported athletes who wanted to compete outside of college-sanctioned events or allowed prospective Olympic athletes to train on their own?
  • The team. College coaches who coach Olympic athletes are usually winning coaches. Their goal is to have their team members contribute to a victory; their best one or two athletes cannot bring home a win by themselves. Prospective college-bound athletes who are going to compete in Olympic sports should meet their prospective teammates. Are they going to cheer for each other? Be friends outside of practices and events? Are they encouraged to succeed academically?
  • The facilities. Some schools are more invested in Olympic sports than others. If you visit Georgia Tech, for example, the swimming facilities are among the best on a US college campus. They were used in the 1996 Olympics that took place in Atlanta. Other schools have built a history of success in Olympic sports. They have alumni communities that are well invested in their success. Ivy League schools, for example, that have long histories of Olympians in sports such as crew, are one example. The condition of the facilities gives a prospective college-bound Olympic athlete an impression of a college’s commitment to a sport, especially one that the student body and the neighboring community does not turn out in great numbers to watch.
  • The student body. Campus cultures are different from school to school. Universities in major college towns have many distractions that can deter a student-athlete from managing academic and athletic expectations. So do schools that are located in larger cities. However, a more isolated campus is not always the answer. With too few diversions from practice and study, a student-athlete is more likely to become bored, possibly homesick. While these feelings are not unique to athletes, they are more serious for them. Athletes have a more structured college life than most of their classmates. They have fewer opportunities to meet people who do not compete in sports. Balancing distractions with the work in school and sport takes discipline. Student-athletes who fail to earn a degree either get too wrapped up in the distractions or too wrapped up in the sport.

A college-bound potential Olympic athlete has many more choices than other college-bound athletes. Given than an Olympic athlete’s career is further along in their sport, it is important for that athlete to choose a college wisely, even if s/he decides to put college on hold until after their perceived window to compete has closed.

Are you the parent of a college-bound athlete? Contact me for admissions advice at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062.

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