NCAA providing young Aussies with another avenue into professional sport
College sports in the United States is a huge industry, something that former college soccer star Kristin Stensholt knows all about.
Kristin was a soccer superstar, having represented Victoria, Australia in both indoor and outdoor soccer and the Centre of Excellence in high school, a now retired program run by the Australian Football Federation that identified the best 15-17 year old soccer players in Australia. Many teenagers who were chosen to participate in the program have gone on to represent the Australian National team for soccer.
Kristin also made the Australian All-Star Futsal team and played in the National Premier League for a number of years.
It was in 2008 that Kristin decided to retire her Victoria uniform and try her hand in the U.S collegiate sports system, run by the NCAA. The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is a billion dollar industry and represents 1,117 universities and colleges, 100 athletic colleges and 40 affiliated sports associations. The NCAA are the governing body for American college sports, and competing in NCAA competitions is a prestigious honour for young athletes. The American Collegiate system offers a gateway for young athletes to progress into the professional leagues.
On a sports scholarship, Kristin was granted the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity that countless student athletes would only dare to dream about.
Since her college sports experience, Kristin started a business, College Scouts America, which was a student athlete recruitment program that aimed to source sporting scholarships for high school students. Kristin focused on individualising every application to ensure that each athlete had the best chance at a scholarship. Now working for Victoria Police, Kristin applies many of her former physical skills into her everyday work.
I sat down with Kristin to discuss her experience overseas and the opportunities that exist for young Aussie athletes looking to progress to the next level.
Q: Why did you decide to play college soccer in America?
A: For me it was the best opportunity to mix both professional soccer and study together. It allowed me to obtain a bachelors degree while playing soccer full time at a really high level.
Q: What college were you with?
A: I played for Newberry College which is a small private college in South Carolina.
Q: What are your strongest memories from your time overseas?
A: Definitely gaining lifelong friendships with people across the world. I still talk to many of my former teammates now and I’ve even travelled back for a few weddings! I really loved travelling all throughout America and playing in a multitude of different stadiums and states. I guess I got to see a lot of the country this way too. Another strong memory was just the feeling you got from being a part of a professional sports program and getting to use first class facilities.
Q: How does the collegiate system compare to our junior leagues here in Australia?
A: In America the NCAA is considered semi professional and they expect you to both work and play as a professional. The facilities are comparable to what the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) provides, with athletes having access to training grounds, gyms, rehabilitation equipment such as ice baths and massage and taping. They also have staff that monitor stuff like your diet and nutrition, exercise and training. Another cool thing is that they provide support staff for academics as well. It’s all encompassing.
Q: Do you think that the collegiate system would benefit young athletes here in Australia?
A: 100%, I would go through the college system again if I had the chance! There are so many opportunities and positive experiences that you gain from living overseas and meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds. I think you develop and mature as a young adult really quickly.
Q: Was it hard to adjust to American culture?
A: It is an adjustment as there is a lot expected of you, from both your studies and performing in your sport. You are provided with support and there are always people that are willing to help which really helps, you also have your teammates there as well and you instantly bond as everyone is kind of going through the same thing. I had a really positive experience, and even though you do miss Australia and your family and friends, I got to travel home over the long breaks.
Q: What advice would you give to young athletes looking to play college sport in America? Who can they get in contact with?
A: I would make the most of your opportunities and look at making representative teams here in Australia first as the US college system is of a very high standard. I would also suggest that you work on your studies and your sport as you will need both to excel. if you have an offer from a US college I would take it with both hands, work hard and enjoy the moment! To get started, there are various recruitment companies here in Australia helping high school student athletes get in touch with colleges. My advice is to make as many state and representative teams you can and create a strong CV and a highlights video ton send to college coaches.