The sports world is seemingly split over the sudden rise to fame, athletic success, and sponsorship deals of Olivia Moultrie. It’s a rare moment—no other 13-year-old young woman has ever captured this kind of attention in American sports. Click here, here, or here to read articles about Moultrie in major publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post.
What can we learn from Olivia Moultrie?
Moultrie is the youngest female soccer player to ever go pro—signing a contract with Nike on March 4. Because of her contract with Nike, she is no longer eligible to play in the NCAA, meaning that she is blazing a completely different athletic path from the vast majority of youth athletes.
Occasionally, high school athletes in sports like basketball, football, or baseball will skip over playing in college and dance their way onto professional teams, lucrative contracts, and sponsorship deals. Moultrie, however, hasn’t even hit high school and has turned her back on a college sports career in favor of pursuing her dreams at the professional level.
Regardless of what you think about Moultrie’s decision and the preparedness and capacity of a 13 year old to make such a life-altering decision, the only thing certain about Moultrie is uncertainty.
Early recruiting is a gamble
Nike, professional coaches, and Moultrie herself are hoping that she develops into one of the greatest soccer players the world has ever seen.
Moultrie isn’t alone. The same kind of hoping and gambling that are synonymous with early recruiting happen in the volleyball world too. For example, Mckenna Wucherer committed to play volleyball for Wisconsin last year—a full 5 years before she’ll join the 2022 roster as a freshman.
Any number of things could happen between now and 2022. Wucherer could develop into one of the greatest players in the country and both she and Wisconsin will be validated for making a great choice early. However, there’s also the chance that Wucherer will face injury, burnout, or changing goals and interests.
When should athletes start engaging in the recruiting process?
Coaches, athletes, and parents seem split about when the appropriate time is for athletes to start thinking seriously about playing at the college level. But shouldn’t athletes be encouraged to dream big about not only college, but the Olympics and professional opportunities? It’s never too early to start dreaming!
Some worry that athletes who start engaging with college coaches too early will lose sight of what is truly important—playing the game they love because it’s fun. The general idea goes that if athletes start to think about college scholarships too soon, they won’t play for the right reasons and they’ll be at risk to burn out early.
Here at BreakOut Sports, we believe that knowledge is power. Every player, regardless of age, should educate themselves about what opportunities are out there and how to take advantage of them. Then, as players get older, they’ll be better prepared to pursue their athletic and academic goals.
What is the right age to commit to a college?
If the recruiting process is successful, at some point prospective college athletes will receive offers from schools that want to add them to the roster. Only high school seniors are allowed to sign a college contract (called a National Letter of Intent or NLI). However, many athletes are offered scholarship or walk on opportunities before their senior year and accept the offer as a verbal commitment. Verbal commits are rarely broken, but are technically only “gentleman agreements” and aren’t legally binding.
The recruiting process is very individual, which is a big reason why I’ve been interviewing college and professional athletes and publishing their recruiting stories here on BreakOut Sports (click here and here to read some recent interviews). There is no right age to commit to a college—it will be different for every athlete.
There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding when to commit to a school
- The ages of 12-18 are extremely formative—what you value in a program and in a college may shift over time
- It’s likely that you’ll change your mind about what you want to study multiple times in high school and in college
- College coaches occasionally make career moves to other programs or retire. If you commit at an early age, the coach you committed to may no longer be at the same college by the time you graduate from high school
A personal experience
I committed to play at the University of Utah when I was 16 years old. At the time, I was the youngest player they had ever offered a scholarship to. I was both flattered and excited! I thought that committing early would take the pressure of recruiting off of my shoulders, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought. Committing at such a young age drew a lot of what I felt was unwanted attention—at a local and national level, committing to Utah meant something to people. It seemed like the club and high school coaches and players around me were constantly evaluating whether they thought I had earned that scholarship. It was a lot to handle as an under confident teenager.
In the end, things worked out well for me. I made it through the last couple of years of high school with a little extra scrutiny and loved my experience playing at Utah.
Time will tell
I wish the best of luck to phenoms like Moultrie and Wucherer. Their future is uncertain, but I hope it ultimately leads to their success and happiness.
The best way to take your athletic future into your own hands is through hard work, passion, and education. BreakOut Sports is here to help! Enter your email at the bottom of the page to get recruiting advice direct to your inbox or connect with us on social media!
Lead photo credit: Daniel Etter