Trying out for a sports team can be a positive experience that can enrich a student's college experience. In most cases, it is best to make inquiries with the athletic department about trying out for a particular team when you have not been recruited to play. You might be given an opportunity to make the team in one sport but not another.
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Major College Sports
It can be very difficult to get a fair opportunity to show your skills for a major college. If you have not been recruited and are not a scholarship player but you want to walk on in a major team sport like football, basketball or baseball, you need to speak with the coach before you show up. For example, if you played high school football and have a dream of playing college football for a school that might be eligible to play for the national championship, you will have to convince the coaches that you are worthy of even showing up for practice. Arrange a meeting and come equipped with a videotape of your high school play and a letter of recommendation from a previous coach. This might get you consideration, but it will be up to the coach to say whether you should show up. Even if you have played before, you might have a chance only to make the team's practice squad and have very little chance to play in games.
Football, basketball and baseball are considered revenue-producing sports. Other sports like golf, tennis, soccer and volleyball offer scholarships but also might offer other athletes a legitimate chance to make the team in a tryout situation. For example, if you are a golfer and have ability, you can make a team with a strong showing in tryouts and then earn a scholarship or partial scholarship, according to College Scholarships.org.
If you are going to a non-division 1 school, you will have a chance to try out and might be able to earn a partial scholarship or grant. According to College Athletic Scholarships.net, Division III and NAIA colleges have scholarship money available. The number of Division III athletes nearly doubled between 1982 and 1987. Small college teams have more players on their rosters than major college teams. Lindsey Wilson, an NAIA program in Kentucky, had 33 players on its men’s basketball roster in 2011. That's more than twice as many as most Division 1 programs.
Once in a while, a player can go from from being a walk-on who succeeds in a tryout to one of the top players in the game. This was the case for Clay Matthews, who walked on at USC, earned a spot on the team and ultimately was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, where he became one of the most productive players on the Packers' defensive team. Safety Jim Leonhard was a walk-on at Wisconsin, excelled in the secondary and made the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent. He became a starter for the Jets.