Dear Coach Bryant:

Each time my daughter talks to the State U coach, she’s told she might be a team walk-on. My daughter so wants to play at this “dream” school that she’s sure she can work hard enough to become a starter by her sophomore year. She even thinks she could eventually earn a scholarship.

I don’t want to shatter my daughter’s dreams, but she’s entering her senior year without any guarantee she can pursue her sport in college. She is just thinking if she works hard enough this coach will find a place for her on his team. What should I do?

Pessimistic in Poughkeepsie

Dear Pessimistic:

No parent wants to shatter their child’s dream. However, most students – and many parents – don’t know what a coach means when they offer a walk-on option. While we hear sports commentators talk about walk-ons becoming star players, those are very rare exceptions. Here’s what your daughter should know about what it really means to be a walk-on in virtually any college sport. 

A walk-on serves as an extra practice player.

While your daughter may imagine herself practicing with State U’s starters, many walk-ons only practice with each other. That means they have few chances to participate in higher-level competition.

A walk-on may not be issued a uniform.

Walk-ons are expected to fulfill most team requirements while receiving none of the perks. Other students may not even realize your daughter has a connection to the team.

A walk-on may not be seen by a coach.

In some programs walk-ons practice on separate fields or courts, away from the top players and coaching staff. Walk-ons may only get a chance to be evaluated by a coach when/if the team suffers multiple injuries/illnesses. 

A walk-on is often treated as a second-class person.

The better players know they are the ones getting the coaches’ time. Since they know the walk-ons are unlikely to play with them, they may not treat them as a member of the team.

The Reality

When a college coach tells a high school student he or she might be a walk-on, it is the student’s job to understand what that means. It is also the parent’s job is to help that student explore alternatives. A student who considers 10 to 14 potential colleges (rather than focusing on a few dream schools) is highly likely to connect with multiple coaches eager to add that student to their rosters. The student who accepts a spot on one of those rosters is also most likely to excel — athletically, academically and socially — because he or she is valued as a first-class member of a team.