Middle School vs High School vs Collegiate Athletics

Whether you are currently in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college, as an athlete, you may want to start thinking about what your athletic career will look like at the next stage. Thinking about your future in athletics, especially when so much is unknown, can be a little scary. I hope this blog can help ease you of these anxieties, as well as provide a glimpse into what a potential athletic career will look like at these three stages.

Middle School

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Going into middle school sports, you likely only have the sports background of a recreation team or possibly even a travel team. This will possibly be the first time that you are going to get to compete in a sport on behalf of your school since elementary schools generally do not have sports teams. Middle school can be a great time to try a new sport, or to continue playing a sport you already play. In middle school, sports are usually separated by grade level. For example, there may be a 6th/7th grade basketball team and then an 8th grade basketball team. Therefore, when competing for a spot on the team, you will likely be competing with those in your grade. At the middle school stage, there will be a wide range of students participating. There will be those who are looking to prepare to play in high school, and those who are just looking for a fun extracurricular in order to exercise. Despite which end of the spectrum you may be on, sports are great for children at this age. Being involved in sports at the middle school stage helps young teens learn how to work together, as well as develop social and communication skills. Personally, I played basketball in 8th grade. I was definitely not the best, and certainly was not looking to play in high school, but I had a great time and made some amazing friends. 

Being a part of a team brings a great sense of pride to students and can help to boost self-esteem. Additionally, being a part of a team at this stage can teach young children time management skills. Even if you may not be the best player on the team, being a part of the team itself will help you learn skills that will last a lifetime.

High School

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The transition from middle school to high school is an extremely exciting time as students begin to gain more independence, learn to advocate for themselves, and learn to take responsibility for their actions. Not only does this apply in the classroom, but it will apply in your high school athletic career as well. One of the main differences between middle school and high school sports is the different split of teams. For most sports, there will be two levels of sport: junior varsity (JV) and varsity. Some sports may even have a third level that is exclusive to freshmen who are not ready for JV or varsity yet. The varsity team will represent the school for that specific sport on the national and state level and will be composed of the best students in that sport for the school. The junior varsity team will be made up of those who are often younger (9th and 10th grade), and not quite ready for the varsity level. The switch to high school means a lot more students, therefore spots for these teams will be a lot more competitive.

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While in middle school, you may have been one of the best on your school team or recreation team. In high school you are going to have to prove yourself all over again as you are now combined with thousands of new kids. But, just because you do not make the spot for the team you want your freshman year does not mean you should give up! I play tennis for my school team, and it is very hard to get a starting spot. On the varsity team, only 10 people make the team with only seven people playing per match (three singles matches and two doubles matches). After not making it freshman and sophomore year, I finally made it junior year. Do NOT give up!

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There are also teams at the school that will likely accept all students who want to join. For instance, cross country and track and field usually accept all students. Working hard during this season may help you develop strength for your main sport in another season. Additionally, you can still be a part of the team at many schools without having to play by being the manager. You still surround yourself with the team atmosphere, but do not play. At my school, I manage the girls varsity volleyball team and it has been a great experience. No matter the level or type, high school sports offer great benefits. Students are 15% more likely to attend college if they participated in a high school sport.

The best of the best in high school may be given the opportunity to play in college. While it is a hard milestone to achieve, it is certainly not impossible if you work hard. Make sure you reach out to college coaches early on, show interest, send film of you playing, attend camps and tournaments with scouts, and most importantly make sure you keep your grades up!


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Playing college sports will place you in the NCAA, NJCAA, or NAIA, but to keep it simple we will focus on the NCAA. The NCAA is split up into three divisions: Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3 (D1-D3). Division 1 schools will consist of the largest schools with the largest budgets and are considered to be the most competitive with the best athletes and teams. Division 2 schools are also very nice, but may be smaller and have lower budgets. Division 3 is the lowest division comprised of the smallest schools—usually small, private schools—with the lowest budget.

D1 schools are known for offering full scholarships for their athletes covering: tuition, room and board, and dining plans. D2 schools also offer many partial scholarships while D3 schools do not offer any athletic scholarships. D1 is known to have the best coaches, and those coming out of D1 sports are the most likely to get recruited to play professionally. Yet again, this is a very difficult task. Even the best D1 players may not get the opportunity to play professionally. Ultimately, if you're in the position to play your sport in college you were likely recruited in high school. For those who still want to play for fun, intramurals is always an option. Intramurals are very casual and less rigorous than official collegiate sports. No matter your athletic ability, you are able to have fun, exercise, make friends, relax, and play!

At the end of the day, the most important part of playing sports is having fun while doing it! At any level, it is possible to do just that, no matter your athletic ability. Do not worry if you are not the best! Work hard, perform to the best of your ability, and get good grades. Just by putting yourself out there, you have already accomplished so much!

Works Cited

At Your Own Risk: Benefits of High School Sports. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.atyourownrisk.org/benefits-of-sports/

Barrington, K. (2017, August 02). The Pros and Cons of Sports for Middle School Students. Retrieved from https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/the-pros-and-cons-of-sports-for-middle-school-students

Differences Between College, Club and Intramural Sports: Cappex. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cappex.com/articles/college-life/college-club-vs-intramural-sports

Geary, C. (2017, August 07). 6 Reasons You Should Join Intramural Sports in College. Retrieved from https://www.pearsoned.com/6-reasons-you-should-join-intramural-sports-in-college/

Petcash, D. (2021, February 19). What are the Differences Between D1, D2, and D3? Retrieved from https://collegeathleteinsight.com/differences-between-d1-d2-d3/#:~:text=D1 consists of the largest,to support their athletic programs.&text=D2 has some pretty solid,universities with fairly low budgets.

Student Assembly. (2020, April 08). Varsity vs. Junior Varsity: A League of Difference? Retrieved from https://www.studentassembly.org/the-big-leagues-jv-vs-varsity/

Transitioning From Middle School to High School Sports. (2019, September 05). Retrieved from https://www.incourage.com/video/transitioning-from-middle-school-to-high-school-sports/

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