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Archive for April, 2008

The process of finding a place for you spend the next four years of your life can be incredibly overwhelming for a 17-year-old. The late junior/early senior years of high school and accompanying college application process is very stressful. The demands they put on the kids to not only have “honor-level” grades and top-notch SAT scores, but also to have extra-curricular activities, is not only wrong but unrealistic. Now, take all of those elements and add the stress of infiltrating a  collegiate athletics program- and you’ve got one stressed out kid. This article is about that stress, what I experienced, and how you can overcome it to truely discover yourself.

Today, I came across a New York Times Well blog article which documents the stressful accounts of three high school kids applying for college.  I think the article is interesting and very telling, but what is even more intriguing is the accompanying comments to the blog. In my opinion, the beauty of blogging is that you can see and share with other people on an immediately engaging level, which is what makes the sharing of stories powerful.

The article was posted only yesturday morning (April 29) and already, there are 139 comments from people throughout the country who complain and explain their awful experiences. SOMETHING is wrong here. Why is this such a grueling experience for these kids? There is entirely too much pressure, and it’s causing some unnecessary stress in individuals who are trying to embark on a journey of discovering where they want to be in the world.

Now, like I said, take that pressure and add to it the expectations set upon a kid who has performed well in his or her athletics career up to that point in their lives. There could be a few different scenerios that could occur here.

Some kids force themselves to make a decision. Should I continue to play the collegiate level? Or do I want  “real” college experience a big school, and ditch the sports altogether?  This can be the crossroad in the life of an athlete, as they may separate from the athletic expectations that parents, coaches (and sometimes even communities) have upon them. In my opinion, if you’re even asking yourself this question, you should probably stop playing and just go to the school of your choice. If you don’t you will regret your decision. Trust me.

Others, like myself at that age,  know they want to participate in a sport at hte collegiate level, but aren’t sure at what level.

The summer before my senior year was met with letters of interest, game filming, emails to coaches and plenty of internet research. (You think the regular admission process is hard? Try adding this work to your plate).

I attended many stressful AAU “bluechip” tournaments. (I know, the word “stressful” conflicts with my previous article about the benefits of AAU sports). That said, I have to admit — once a kid reaches the later years in high school, AAU participation is much more of a game of getting into college — those who are still playing at that age are serious about attaining a college scholarship.

So, the summer before my senior year, I traveled around the country at showcase tournaments. Usually, I had a only a few opportunities in a particular weekend to make an impression on college coaches who sat in the stands watching my every move.

Unfortunately, I was under the impression that my performance would affect the decisions of these scouts.  I quickly came to find out that (like a lot of other parts of life) the college recruitment process is largely political, and is about who you  know and who those people know. The coaches in the stands were there to “scmooze” individuals who they knew, who they had previous contact with and who were already on their radar. Performance in these tournaments  didn’t really matter much at all. The college coaches who were present were really just looking to see what kind of shape you are in, and to make some “beneficial” face-to-face engagement to try and influence your decision.

I did have a few schools looking at me, and that is why I kept plugging away at those tournaments. I was very unsure if what I was doing was going to be worth it, but I remember my dad saying to me, “Meg, even if you get nothing from this, you can at least say you tried. It’s all about the experience.”

I came out of those experiences with an offer from a few division II schools, and “letters of interest” from a few division III schools (no scholarship money allowed). But, I did see parts of the country that I never thought possible, and I played with and against some of the best athletes to have competed in women’s basketball.

By the spring of my senior year, I still had not made my decision, and was sick and discussed by the politics of the entire process. Girls who I had evenly competed with had signed letters of intent with division I scholarships because of who they knew, contacts they had made.

So, I decided (thankfully) that I wanted a life of my own, and I went to an in-state division III school, close enough to home that my parents could come see me play. The school had an outstanding liberal arts reputation, yet a competitive basketball team and an even more competitive application process.

I was comfortable with my decision, largely because it would be over. (Can you imagine that? A kid should be excited about their decision… not excited that the decision process is over).

I found myself right back where all the “normal” college applicants find themselves – struggling to prove themselves on paper. Because I am not one to perform well on standardized tests, I spent much time in the kitchen of a local tutor, working hard to improve my scores. I spent late-night hours on the essays about my life’s purpose, campaigned for leadership positions, and worked as hard as I could to garner a successful basketball team. Where did all the time go for fun? I’m still asking myself that question.

But, what I don’t have to look back on is my decision. I know I picked the right one. I truly discovered myself in college. I challenged myself academically and physically.

When deciding if you want to continue with athletics, you need to really think about the commitment level. A Division III basketball program, although not as demanding as Division I, still demands a commitment of at least three hours per day, not including extra workouts and lifting. If class conflicted with practice, you went to class. If you had an early practice the next morning or a game the next day, you went to bed instead of going out. But because of these rules, my teammates and I unconsciously found ourselves  challenging and pushing each other in the classroom, and in life – not just on the basketball court.

When you join a division III athletics program, you automatically enroll with about fifteen friends (your teammates) who share something in common with you. This is a powerful thing when you are discovering who you want to be friends with. You are invited to engage in a silent, yet powerfully existent social community of an athletics program at the institution.

Because I chose the school and level of athletics that I did, I was able to to expose myself to four different areas of academic study – health and exercise science, psychology, women’s and gender studies and communication. I graduated with a degree, two minors and a concentration. I also had two internships completed and four-month independent study, all of which have led me to where I am today. I still don’t know how did it, but I’m glad that I did.

Yes, the basketball thing could have ended a little bit better than I would have hoped for, but  that’s not what really matters. What really matters is what my dad said to me when I was 17 years old… “the experience.”  Because of my decision, I had a lot of fun, and I discovered myself along the way.

So if you’re a high school athlete considering college athletics, when it comes to your decision, think about how committed you want to be to the sport. Ask yourself if you really love it. Then, think about where the most options are, both academically and athletically.

Once you do that, your decision is already made. Take a deep breath. It’s over. Now you can relax and go with the flow. You’re on a journey to discovering the rest of your life.

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For those who can afford it, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is an excellent way to get your children involved with a higher level of athletics, as well as a higher level of fun. For me, AAU offered hope – a chance of a college scholarship, and a road to the future of women’s basketball.

Now that it’s all said and done, my road to the future of women’s basketball will be paved not as a player, but as a coach. And, hopefully, somewhere in the near or distant future, an influential member of the local or national women’s basketball community.

With that, looking back, AAU gave me some great memories, as well as access to some of top athletes (who later became some of my top friends) in the south Jersey community of women’s basketball. Upon moving on to the high school level, I found myself playing against a large number of my AAU teammates, battling for a higher rank in the local paper.

Then, upon graduating from college, I found myself posing for a picture at a senior game with a few of my old AAU teammates. These are women with whom I had the privilege to share the court… and along with it some fun memories as an eleven-year-old with big dreams.

AAU definest itself as “one of the largest, non-profit, volunteer, sports organizations in the United States. A multi-sport organization, the AAU is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.”

The AAU vision is “to offer amateur sports programs through a volunteer base for all people to have the physical, mental and moral development of amateur athletes and to promote good sportsmanship and good citizenship.”

And that’s precisely what it does.

As an AAU coach, I am proud of my players. But most of all, I’m proud of my players’ parents. Like my parents, these adults are allowing their children to have fun and be competitive at something they like to do. It sounds simple, but it goes a long way. (It certainly did for me).

To get your children involved in an AAU program, take a look at the AAU suggestions on finding a team in your area.

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I’m just another not-so-typical-20-something just-out-of-college overly altruistic and obnoxious about it pretentious individual… who has no idea what tomorrow will bring.

I moved about a year ago – three hours from home to the beautiful greater Washington, DC metropolitan area. I came to this place of one-too-many cocktails, suits and high heels because I wanted to save the world through my professional career. What I’ve found is it takes a little more than a dream, and I have a lot of work to do.

In the mean time, I’ve realized something… by participating in sports as a kid, I was setting myself up for successful opportunities, long after I hung up my sneakers. All of that hard work, all of those years of obsessing over practices, coaches’ impressions, newspapers, rankings, everything… it has all come full circle. It’s true, what the NCAA says — most of us go professional in something other than sports.

I grew up playing A LOT of basketball. I started in about fifth grade when I played for St. Rose of Lima basketball, then gradually became a part of the Penn-Jersey Panthers AAU basketball program where I met all kinds of great girls in New Jersey. I went on to play basketball for two years at Camden Catholic High School then transferred to Haddon Heights High School and graduated in 2003. I turned down a few basketball scholarships and chose to play for The College of New Jersey Lions, and graduated in 2007 with a degree in Exercise Science and Health Communication. Right now, I work for a public relations firm in Washington, DC. On the side, I coach a Classics Basketball AAU team and play in Headfirst Sports Leagues.

Now, since I’ve hung up my sneakers, I’ve discovered is that as female athletes, there is an incredible disconnect between the billions of us who play sports and the very few who choose to follow the stars. Not only this, but we as female athletes are incredibly underrepresented in print and on the Web. So I will do what I can to bring as much as I can to the online space. I strongly believe that by simply listening (and I mean really listening) and paying attention, you’re empowering yourself beyond measure. Knowledge is very, VERY powerful. And if I can bring it to the table, I’ll always have a seat.

That is what this blog is all about.

Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.

(Disclaimer: the thoughts an opinions on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not reflect those of my current or previous employers).

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