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Athletes Advised to Work Hard to Make the Jump

Colleges: Coaches say many freshmen are physically or mentally unprepared.

May 28, 1996|WENDY WITHERSPOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somewhere among the stacks of guidebooks and registration materials colleges send to incoming student athletes, there probably is a checklist from a college coach.

If you really want to compete in college, find it.

College coaches say most high school seniors are ill-prepared for college athletics. If academic challenges don't wash them out as college freshmen, poor time management or physical fatigue probably will.

"For the most part, they are just not physically strong enough to handle practice and conditioning and the weight training part of it," Long Beach State men's volleyball Coach Ray Ratelle said. "It is such a big jump in terms of the athletic ability of the people they're playing against."

Ratelle tries to portray to his incoming freshmen what practices are like, but many don't get the picture.

"You tell them, 'You need to run sets of sprints and you need to get into a good program and lift,' " Ratelle said. "They just don't do it, they just don't work hard enough at the conditioning part and it's such a shock to them when they get here."

Ratelle had about 12 freshmen on his roster when practice began at the end of October. By the end of the season this spring, five remained.

"A lot of things happen in the first year. There are a lot of them that decided they don't want to work that hard. It is a real adjustment, there is no question whatsoever," Ratelle said.

Even if an athlete can make the adjustment athletically, academics can be overwhelming.

"The most difficult adjustment for entering freshmen to make is the ability to manage their time, in terms of combining their classes, their homework along with the hours of practice and hours missed for competition," said Colleen Matsuhara, UC Irvine women's basketball coach. "They have some tough competition in the classroom, so it's like having to get your game face on every day for class."

Although physical and academic difficulties face almost every freshman student-athlete, some sports have particular challenges.

"Gymnastics is a very controlled sport," Cal State Fullerton Coach Lynn Rogers said. "The kids are very good in school, they typically live a very programmed and orderly life before they get here."

The problems come with the sudden freedom many gymnasts find in college.

"The mental and emotional transition of being on their own, cooking their own food and being in charge of their own schedule, those things are typically more of an issue for our kids," said Rogers, who had to wean one gymnast away from the cellular phone she carried to call her mother between classes.

Rogers joked that he would trade problems with Ratelle in a minute.

"I'd rather build a kid's biceps than have to deal with some of those other issues," Rogers said.

The transition from high school to college athletics is easiest when sports are kept in perspective.

"I think it is most important to pick a school that you are going to be happy at," Ratelle said. "If the volleyball works out, fine, but if it doesn't, you're at the school you're going to be happy."

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