Podcast: Chris LaTempa: Recruited Athletes & College Admissions

In today’s episode, I sit down with Chris LaTempa, a seasoned college counseling expert with a wealth of knowledge in the intricate world of college athletic recruiting. If you have a child considering college athletics, this episode is a MUST LISTEN!

TRANSCRIPT

Chris LaTempa: 

It is a common error for student athletes to sit back and think, Oh, if I’m good enough, a coach is going to reach out to me. I mean, you think about the number of student athletes there are across the country, and the limited time and keep in mind these college coaches, you know, they have to recruit a class, but they also have to coach their sport and develop their athletes on their campus. So time is very limited, and they don’t know who necessarily would be interested in them. So I think student athletes need to be very proactive in reaching out to college coaches.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hi, folks, welcome back to the podcast. Today, I’m really excited to dive in with crystal a temper because he has so much knowledge and experience with athletic recruiting for a number of different types of sports and all kinds of different institutions. And when we think about athletic recruiting for college, most people don’t think about what a complex multi step multi year process it can sometimes be. So, you know, normally when we think about it, we think, Oh, this kid’s good at baseball, or lacrosse, they could get a scholarship to go to college. And that’s partly true. If they are number one, talented enough. And number two, aiming for the right type of institution where they can actually be offered money to play a sport. But that’s not going to be the case for every single student athlete. So Chris is going to walk us through what you really need to be thinking about if you think your child is on this path to pursuing athletics at the college level. Take a listen. Chris, thank you so much for joining us today.

Chris LaTempa: 

Thank you for having me, Sheila, really excited to be here chatting with you and excited to reach out to students.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, I’m so looking forward to this conversation. Because as you are about to tell us, you have just a really in depth knowledge of athletic recruiting for college. And I think that’s such a black box for so many families. And it’s hard for students to know, am I good enough to be recruited to play in college? What are the steps? What do I need to do? So I’m really excited to kind of get into that with you. But first, how about you give us a little introduction to what you do and how you got there?

Chris LaTempa: 

Yeah, so I wear multiple hats. I am the Director of College Counseling at Moorestown Friends School, which is a small Quaker school just outside of Philadelphia in New Jersey. And I also teach a course through Villanova University, their graduate school counseling program on counseling college bound athletes. So I started myself in college admission, I joined at my alma mater Lafayette College immediately upon graduating from college myself, had three wonderful years working at Lafayette College in their admission office, one of which actually did get to spend some time with the softball team. So that varsity Division One softball team, I was a volunteer assistant coach. And it wasn’t the best of seasons that we had. But I had a great experience working with the student athletes. So I really enjoyed that athletic component, and also through the admission lens, working with incoming student athletes, and really enjoyed advising them through the process. Through those three years of college admission I loved representing my school, but at the same time, working with students, it was really difficult to build these wonderful relationships, and then turn around and say, unfortunately, we cannot offer you a spot in our class. So that drew me into advocacy on the student’s behalf. And that got me interested in college counseling. So I started to put feelers out for some college counseling positions, fortunate enough to land my first college counseling role at sleazy animschool, which is an all boys independent Catholic school in Wilmington, Delaware, very well known for its athletics, something like 160 Plus probably even more now state championships in Delaware, and got to work with a number of fantastic student athletes and students in general at a variety of different levels, learned athletic recruiting in a broader sense, and the variety of schools that students apply to. And after some time, it’s Louisiana. I ended up at Malvern Preparatory School, which is another all boys independent Catholic school, outside of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and another athletic powerhouse on a national scale. So I got to work with a number of student athletes in that role there and at Malvern. We range from a quarter to a third of our graduating class each year going on to play college athletics, which is extreme really rare. I mean, if you look at the statistics, the percentage of high school athletes that will go on to play sport in college, it varies by sport, it’ll range anywhere from 3% for basketball, as high as 12 fruit to maybe a little higher for lacrosse, but by and large, it is a pretty low percentage of student athletes that go on to play in college.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that’s really helpful context. And were you a student athlete yourself in college,

Chris LaTempa: 

Not in college, I was a student athlete growing up a three sport athlete all through high school. And I, you know, would be remiss if I didn’t say early on, of course, had aspirations to play in college, and I think quickly found that it was not within my ability level. And we can get into to fit too. But I think for me, if I really wanted to focus on one of my sports, and was willing to compete, maybe at that Division Three level, it could have been something to pursue. But honestly, at that point, I had fun with my sports, but I didn’t see it as something that was really important to me to continue in college. So I decided not to gear my college search around college athletics.

Sheila Akbar: 

So much to dig into there. If we could stay in this moment in time for a little bit back when you were 1718. If you could remember that far back. It’s hard for me sometimes. How did you realize that? It wasn’t within your wheelhouse? What was that process? Like?

Chris LaTempa: 

Yeah, excellent question. So I went to a small public high school in North Jersey and my core nucleus of friends and our athletics group really had a lot of success growing up. So we won, you know, North Jersey championships, and we won actually a little league state championship, we were like two games away from playing in Williamsport at the Little League World Series. So there was a lot of talent in the class, I would say size wise, I stopped growing for, for all intensive purposes. So I was undersized when I looked at college athletic rosters and saw college athletes, I wasn’t getting attention and looks from college coaches, although I would say also didn’t pursue it very much. And this is a piece that I would also caution or advise students and families I had, I would say a moment of what could have been false hope I would characterize, in my junior year, I happen to have this really good game in in football, where I got like a student athlete of the week in the local newspaper, and following that newspaper article, and athletic advising group reached out to me, and they asked to meet for a consultation and my family and I took this consultation meeting and they talked about signing on with them. So it was a paid service, that I could sign on and pursue athletic recruiting further. And I think at that point, I knew that this was this game that I had was kind of anomaly, and it probably wasn’t going to reflect my season or talent ability as a whole. So I think that self awareness was really key. There’s also the resource of always talking to your coaches. And I had brought this up with my football coaches. And they, you know, they were great about it. But they said, you know, here’s what we see. And these are, you know, the students that we’ve worked with that have gone on to play in college, they asked me, Do you see yourself at that level? And you know, I answered honestly, no. And they said, Could you see yourself at that level? And the difficulty is, you know, Junior, this was in my junior year. So you know, how much time do you really have? And do you really want to commit yourself to this, which would probably mean, I also wrestled and played baseball. So this was for football, for dropping, wrestling, dropping baseball. And I didn’t feel like that was something that I wanted to do and fully go all in on football. And I knew even if I did, the odds of me getting some looks at the types of schools that I would actually want to attend otherwise for college seemed pretty remote. I mean, there are other statistics and metrics that I can point to like my 40 yard dash time in terms of speed, and again, being undersized for the positions that I played speed are really matter. And I didn’t have it. You know, I knew that like, by comparison, looking at my statistics, so I definitely think it was the right move not to pursue that further.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. So if I could reflect that back to you, I’m hearing kind of two ways, all kind of governed by some radical honesty, with yourself and from your coaches. But two ways to sort of assess that one is like looking at some data of people who are successful in those roles or in that process of athletic recruiting and comparing yourself to them so could be a 40 yard dash time. could be size or weight or whatever. And then the other is like looking realistically at what it would take to be at that level, and maybe even extend that to what it looks like to be an athlete in college and the time commitment and you know, the amount of balance that you have to be able to find in order to be a very successful student athlete. You know, realistically, that was just not something you wanted for yourself or didn’t think you could do. So I think that’s really helpful to two big points to keep in mind. Oh, you mentioned that you think you could have played d3? Probably not the one for families who are unfamiliar with what that means those distinctions mean? Can you give us a short primer on that?

Chris LaTempa: 

Yeah, so the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA divides its levels of athletics into Division One, division two and Division three. So division one would be that premier highest level, typically the schools that you see featured on ESPN, by and large, Division One schools can offer scholarships. So if you think about division one and division two as well would be those scholarships sports division three, which would be the lowest tier within the NCAA cannot offer athletic scholarships. So division three schools do tend to be a bit smaller, the time commitment tends to be a little lower. It’s not unheard of. Although it is extremely rare to see division three athletes ascend to a professional level. So typically, you know that the athletes you see going professional in some capacity will have played usually division one in college and also Division two. I should also mention that the NCAA is not the only entity for college athletics. There’s also the NAIA, I found in my experience, there are far fewer schools in the NAIA and they tend to be schools. They’re scattered throughout the country. But again, there are far fewer of them. The NAIA doesn’t get the same notoriety and attention as the NCAA, there was also Junior College. And we see that from time to time. So we actually, I worked with a student who had a scholarship to play division one baseball, and we got a transcript request from him after about a year or so requesting a transcript for a transfer to a junior college or community college. So I reached out and I was a little curious about this because here you are accepting a scholarship at a division one school and you want to go play to junior college that typically isn’t a path that most students take. For baseball in particular, there are a few other sports you see this sometimes with football. So some listeners may be familiar with Cam Newton former NFL MVP, he played junior college for a year in a midst of transition between Division One schools. In this particular student that I had worked with, he saw Junior College as an avenue to play with athletes who are getting ready to enter the MLB draft. And fortunately for him after playing I believe it was on the West Coast. He did get drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, which was really cool to see. But in any event, that would be the tears between NCAA and AIA Junior College.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, a little bit of alphabet soup here. And you know, the NCAA sets all the rules for student recruitment, right. So I know that depending on the sport, depending whether you’re playing boys sport, or girls sport, there are different times where coaches can officially make contact and, you know, talk to players about what it would be like to join their team and ask for highlight reels and stats and things like that from from students. So it does get a little complicated. But is it fair to say that at d3 schools, typically, you have to be kind of qualified as a an applicant in general to the school. And then they’ll consider sports talent as maybe a bonus or something that they’re interested in adding, but you really do have to be qualified for the school, whereas D one D two, they’re very interested in investing in their sports franchises, whether we can call them that because they’re technically amateurs. That’s a whole other story. But they’re able to give scholarships to student athletes because they specifically want them on their team and they may, you know, overlook certain things on a student’s application that may otherwise not make them a competitive candidate for that college. Is that Is that fair?

Chris LaTempa: 

Yes. And there are definitely nuances and it varies by sport for sure. And by tier. So the way I always look at it colleges view student athletes as bringing something additional beyond just the transcript and what they’re contributing in the community in the classroom. To To enrich that campus community in the sense of that sport. Now, again, for certain universities for certain sports, that could be bringing in money and revenue to the school, it could be bringing in notoriety and publicity. So I think by and large for that reason colleges, to put it bluntly, maybe willing to compromise some of their admission standards, because they know those student athletes are enriching and helping that campus community in other ways. So yes, I would say Division Three, because that athletic level isn’t at the same caliber notoriety. Again, over generalizing here. Schools may be less willing to dip on their admission standards or compromise their admission standards, but possibly still somewhat. And for some of these hyper selective schools, that Division Three level, I would think of like your Emory, your Carnegie Mellon, your Swarthmore, Haverford in the like those types of schools. If you look at the NESCAC conference, it’s called New England small colleges Athletic Conference, which is it gets comparisons to like division threes version of the Ivy League. So you think about students still have to be very qualified and mission wise, I mean, students still need to be near the top of their class academically in although almost all of those schools, if not all, are test optional, they may still ask for test scores to compare their student athletes and student body as a whole. The tipping point would be even students within those range academically, you know, a relatively low percentage of them are going to gain admission, whereas that athletic hook we use the term hook may put them over the top in a class. Now with D one, and I think the two as well, students may not have the same grade point average strength of transcript test scores, and still may be able to gain admission and even scholarship because of what they are bringing on the athletic front. And there’s different terminology that different schools use the framework I like to give when you look at admissibility for athletes, we break it down into a band, B band and C band. And what that means generally, would be students in that a band are typically admissible on their own. So working at Lafayette, when I would get a transcript of a student athlete, and it would be a really strong student, I would go to our admission athletic liaison. And typically an admission office does have an athletic liaison that works with different coaches and the athletic department to vet college athletes and determine their admissibility, I would say this student, even if they weren’t a student athlete, they could get in on the merits of their academics, they’re admissible on their own. A student in the beat here would be admissible, meaning you, you’re confident they could do the work. But at a selective school, they’re below the typical, you know, average GPA and the like. So they would be admission admissible with Coach support. So if the coach and the coach would only get a certain number of recruiting slots, that’s really going to vary by school by sport. So there’s a lot of variables there. But this student athlete would be admissible if the coach is willing to support them. And again, those spots are a bit more limited. The C band again, depending on which school you’re looking at is either this student, unfortunately, is not admissible. No matter how talented of an athlete they are, we’re not going to be able to move forward with them. Or the student has labeled high risk for academic struggles on a college campus, in which case, maybe a program grants a coach, one spot per year, something like that, for the C band athletes that you know, this student is a good bit below the typical academic profile we see in admitted class. So if you as a student and a student athlete are getting far enough along in the process, where you are talking to a coach, and the coach asks for your transcripts and test scores, what they are doing is then taking your transcript to this admission athletic liaison in the admission office to determine which of those bands and categories you fall under. And usually a coach is going to be hopefully pretty forward with that because they don’t want to put an inordinate amount of time and energy recruiting a student who ultimately is not going to be admissible. So they will give a look at the transcript and have a general sense of you know, can we move forward and they may give a student that’s always really helpful when you can get a college coach to give you know, we need to see you taking these classes in your senior year because rigor also matters. We need to see you get a score within this range. Maybe we’re going even though the school is generally test off Trouble. We know a test score in this range can help you. And we hear that from more selective schools, our athletes will come back and say, Yeah, we spoke to the coach at x school. And they said, I need to raise my test score by 50 points before we can move forward.

Sheila Akbar: 

Wow it’s so helpful. You’re just a wealth of information here. And I have a million questions. I know we won’t get to all of them. Today, I wanted to ask you about the PG year, we see a lot of student athletes deciding to go to a boarding school for a fifth year of high school to preserve some athletic eligibility, and also give themselves a chance to develop their game further, can you tell us about where that can be helpful to students and when you recommend it?

Chris LaTempa: 

Absolutely. And I think the starting point would be conversations with a student athletes, current coaches, and maybe even college coaches, if they built a rapport, getting as much objective feedback as possible can be really helpful in determining, and, you know, to some degree size for a lot of sports. So, you know, some athletes are undersized, but they might anticipate, you know, I may have a growth spurt ahead of me. And that’s, you can’t ever bank on that or anticipate that. So that’s, you know, hard to say. But a lot of times we see it with athletes who play sports that are very statistically driven in terms of times. So you see this with swimmers sometimes, like I need a rowers, I need to get my time down by a certain percentage or to a certain level. And I feel like with an extra year of development, I can do that. A post grad year. So there are certain schools around the country that would offer an additional year. So after a student has graduated from high school, they can do this post grad year, and it gives them an other year of athletic development that then they have that extra year through the recruiting process, and they can continue to go to college, I will use the term ID camps, meaning a lot of college coaches will host camps for their sport. And the best way to get on the mailing list for these camps is simply to go on a school’s website and fill out their student athlete questionnaire. And you’ll automatically get notifications and invitations for these camps. Sometimes, coaches will reach out to student athletes directly. I think an important point to make here is it is a common error for student athletes to sit back and think, Oh, if I’m good enough, a coach is going to reach out to me. I mean, you think about the number of student athletes there are across the country, and the limited time and keep in mind these college coaches, you know, they have to recruit a class but they also have to coach their sport and develop their athletes on their campuses time is very limited, and they don’t know who necessarily would be interested in them. So I think student athletes need to be very proactive in reaching out to college coaches, and that, you know, we’re taking away one tip, I mean, I think that is the most important point. If you are a student athlete aspiring to play sport in college, be proactive and reaching out to college coaches and colleges where you would want to play, but getting that feedback can be extremely helpful. Maybe the PG year makes sense. Maybe again, I mentioned earlier junior college, maybe that makes sense. What is very particular to the sport of ice hockey, and really men’s ice hockey. A lot of those student athletes will go into junior hockey, so it’s typically they’ll play a year to their to develop before they go on to play in college. If you happen to attend a private school that does reclassification, so Malvern prep, where I worked previously to my current school Moorestown friend school, Malvern, prep would reclassify students, meaning if a student wanted to stay on for an additional fifth year, maybe they entered a bit young for their grade, or maybe they needed that extra time to develop, or they wanted to give an extra year to see if, you know, they could get some more looks in the recruiting landscape, they would stay on for a fifth year of high school. And again, it gives that extra year of growth and maturity and development. Maybe there’s an injury that a student recovered from that took away from their athletic development or took a season away. So there are any number of reasons why a student might extend that their high school journey to get that additional year for athletic recruitment. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. So I would say students and families need to be very thoughtful and intentional about, you know, the risks involved, and you’re getting an extra year of education and extra year of growth and development. So I would say affordability might be the greatest risk in terms of you know, the these PG years typically, you know, tend to be expensive tuitions. And usually the private schools that do rate reclassification. Tuition is not cheap. So that has to be determined as well.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. Right. Well, you’ve got into something that I’m hoping to kind of round out our conversation which are the common mistakes that Students make when they are thinking that they want to play in college. So you mentioned the sort of, they’re going to come find me attitude, which they’re not. And you’ve got to be proactive about it. Tell us some of the other common mistakes you’ve you’ve seen.

Chris LaTempa: 

Yes. So I always tell students, not just student athletes, but just students in general, one of the most important skills that you can cultivate as you’re going through the college process is resourcefulness. So what I think that means in this particular context, would be utilizing all of the resources at your disposal. So certainly putting the time and energy into researching colleges, and utilizing college coaches and their feedback and having these open and honest conversations. And, you know, students, club coaches, the students, high school coaches, being open and receptive to feedback coach, Where do I stand right now? What level do you see me playing at? If I’m aspiring to a certain level that you don’t see is within range for me currently? What do I need to do to get there? So asking those questions is very important. I would say another common mistake that we see student athletes making is not taking the time to reflect upon fit, and what is important to you as a student athlete. My counseling module and this is something I’ve developed while at Malvern prep, and something I’m taking with me to Moorestown friends, is inward, outward, onward upward. And I always tell students follow that process. So it starts with inward self reflection, introspection. What are your goals? What are you looking for out of an athletic program and experience? How do you position that within your academic experience, and social experience and college experience as a whole. So if you want to join a fraternity or sorority, a lot of college programs and athletic programs allow for that some do not. So if you envision that being part of your social experience in college, that may dictate your athletic recruiting process, how much time and energy you anticipate devoting to academics, because ultimately, that’s why we go to college, right to get a degree and an education. So making sure you can balance that knowing that uh, certainly at the division one level, athletics can be it can feel like a full time job, it can be 3040 hours a week, or more, being devoted to the sport and making and oftentimes, traveling off campus and making sure you’re able to balance that. So understanding what you’re looking for in terms of academic and athletic and social balance is really important. Thinking about goals on an athletic front, and what is important to you. So a lot of students will say, you know, my goal is to play division one athletics, and that is the end all be all. And maybe they get there. And that’s great. But maybe you know, the athletic term would be riding the pine or meaning you don’t get you’re on the bench for a majority of your athletic career. And maybe you’re competing, you made the athletic roster. But maybe it wasn’t as a top tier athletic recruit, and maybe you’re fighting for playing time, maybe you barely get any playing time throughout your four years, versus had you played at a division two or Division Three level, you maybe were could have been a four year starter, maybe could have been an All American. I mean, these are values to take into account. And I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong, there are some student athletes, like some listeners may be familiar with the story or the movie Rudy, where this undersized football player, his dream is to play for Notre Dame football. And he sees the field for I think one or two plays in his college career. But that is his dream. And he lives on that and he gets you know, ultimately gets a degree from Notre Dame to but that’s the type of story where that student athlete could have maybe been very good at the Division Three level, but he wanted that taste of the highest level. And that is really, you know, an individual decision to make. But I guess the overall point here is making sure you are very thoughtfully and intentionally weighing all options and goals as you’re going into the athletic recruiting process. So what tear is right for you? What balance is right for you? And then the other criteria is of fit in terms of thinking about location. I mean, are you willing to go on the other side of the country if it means not being able to always play in front of family, maybe playing in front of family is important to you, and that would dictate location or wanting to be closer to home or further away from home for any number of reasons, in terms of affordability. So I think that is another common myth imagining getting that full ride scholarship. I mean, it is probably 1% 1% of student athletes that are getting significant scholarships to play at a college level. Usually, if a student athlete is getting a scholarship at all to play, it’s more often than not a partial scholarship. So weighing that against the overall cost of college and is it affordable. That, you know is of course another important consideration. So I guess the by and large theme here is really understanding first and foremost, what you are looking for in terms of fit, and making sure that the school offers it. Another piece would be program culture. So what is the coaching style that you play best for and most liked to play for, some players don’t mind getting yelled at a lot, it fires them up. Some players thrive on that intensity, other players look for what we would call a player’s coach, someone who is more nurturing and positive with their coaching style, and understanding how that plays in we use the term schematics. So in terms of the type of system that you play best under or what system best fits your playing style, that is also really important, and an athlete, and I’ve seen this before athletes dream of playing for a certain type of school. But the way that school plays, the sport does not align with that athletes talents, and that has to be taken into account, you could be tops at your position and a great fit for a school. But if that school has already filled your specific position for that recruiting class, it may not be a match in that level. So there are a lot of different variables that make a school of good fit, or maybe not an ideal fit and understanding fit. That’s that outward peace finding that match has to start with that inward self reflection and knowing what you’re looking for.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, that is such a great comprehensive answer, because I think it really meshes with the way we think about choosing a college in general, whether you’re an athlete or not, right, there’s so many different ways the school needs to align with what your personal goals and needs are. And then if you add athletic recruiting in, there’s a whole other set of variables that almost decide process that you have to think about. Well, Chris, I think that’s a great place to leave it. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m sure, we will have more questions for you. And we’d love to have you back to talk about maybe a smaller piece of this process, and we can really get into the weeds. But thank you again, this is a lot of fun.

Chris LaTempa: 

Yeah, sure. Thank you so much for having me appreciate speaking with you and hopefully imparting some insights that students and families can utilize in this process, because it definitely gets tricky at times. But it does tend to work out in the end. So you know, have confidence, have faith, and definitely be introspective and reflective. And you will do well.

Sheila Akbar: 

Thanks, Chris. Wow. So you can see just how complicated it can get, and why you really want to have clear expectations before you dive into it. And there are lots of people that can help you with this. You know, I’ve got people on my team that guide people through the recruiting process. For some D one sports, you’ve got some specialized people who really know the ins and outs of football or baseball or, you know, women’s soccer or whatever it happens to be at those most competitive levels. But you know, just sort of as we ended the conversation there thinking about the inward reflection that is necessary to make sure that the team or the school that you’re targeting is really a good fit for you. That’s the thing that I really hope you carry with you. You know, just because your student could play the sport that they love, you know, on a competitive team, that might not be the thing that makes them happy or helps them get set up for success for whatever else they want to pursue in their life beyond athletics. So you know, we want to keep the bigger picture in mind and make sure your student and their needs and their goals are really at the center of this process. Well, that’s it. I know that a lot of us in this industry are feeling a bit of relief now that early applications are in next week, I’m going to talk to you about what early applications are and if you have a senior, what should they be doing as they think about regular decision applications? And then we’ll come back to having some great guests. All right. Take care, everybody. We’ll see you soon.

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