So what is the exact definition of a walk-on athlete and how does this differ from an athlete who receives a scholarship? An athlete who is a “walk-on” is one who has been offered a spot on the roster, but will not be given scholarship money.
Unfortunately walk-on spots are sometimes perceived as a step down, but in reality they can be very prestigious and a stepping stone to earning a scholarship in the future. As a coach I always viewed it as an opportunity for an athlete. Once the team members report to practice, it is an equal playing field. The coaches usually hold all the gymnast to the same expectations throughout the entire year. Six spots need to be filled on each event whether you are a walk-on or scholarship athlete.
Some gymnasts are not recruited early in their high school years because of injury or they peaked towards their senior year and by then, most scholarships have all been given out. Others may receive scholarship offers to certain schools but choose to want a walk-on spot instead to their “dream” school. What many athletes and parents don’t realize is that these walk-on positions actually have a financial price tag to them.
Below is a list of items that a walk-on athlete often receives for being a part of the team:
APPAREL: Travel and competition gear, grips, leotards/uniforms, practice gear, shoes, backpacks
ACADEMIC SERVICES: Tutors, early registration, study tables, computers, printers, motivational and guest speakers
TRAVEL COSTS: Flights, Hotel, Per Diem
TRAINING ROOM: Tape, doctor visits, massages, weight lifting coaches, all forms of treatment for injuries, surgeries
ADMISSIONS: Some schools are full but save admission spots for the athletes, or give priority registration
SUMMER TRAINING: Training tables
Don’t be disappointed if you end up with a walk-on spot. You should be honored especially if it communicated that you have an opportunity to earn a scholarship after the first season. I have witnessed many walk-ons who became All Americans and team captains. Hard work and perseverance can bring many rewards.
If it comes down to accepting a walk-on spot in order to play at your dream school or taking a slot at another school just for the money, you might want to think very carefully. Picking your school first is a very wise way to go. You never know how the gymnastics is going to work out but you always want academics to be your priority if possible when choosing your university.
About Jill Hicks:
Jill Hicks is a former elite gymnast, Division I college athlete, club coach and Division I college gymnastics coach (Cal State Fullerton, Oregon State) and the owner of Jill Hicks Consulting, where she provides recruiting services and choreography for prospective student-athletes and their families. For further information visit: www.jhicksconsulting.com
Editor's Note: Publication of this article is not an endorsement of any recruiting service. Always check with the NCAA or your school's compliance officer for any questions regarding recruiting rules, the latest timelines, or other issues.