What Is a Walk-On?

Plus, a guide on how to do it

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The term walk-on is used in sports, particularly American college athletics, to describe an athlete who becomes part of a team without being actively recruited beforehand or awarded an athletic scholarship. This results in the differentiation between "walk-on" players and "scholarship" players.

Generally, that means end-of-bench players who make the team via an open tryout, but there are a number of possible exceptions.

  • Recruited Walk-On: A "recruited walk-on" is a player that is recruited for a spot on a given team, but not offered a scholarship. This might happen if the team in question is out of scholarships, or if the player in question is independently wealthy. Some programs refer to these players as "preferred walk-ons." These players might also have an "off the books" agreement that they'll get a scholarship when one becomes available.
  • Two-sport Players: A player with a scholarship in one sport―say, football―might "walk on" in a second sport.


Walk-on is used as a noun, verb, and an adjective.

  • Noun: "With Carolina leading by 20, Roy Williams put all his walk-ons on the floor."
  • Verb: "Football star Terrelle Pryor has a standing offer to walk-on to the basketball team."
  • Adjective: "Indiana's only healthy returning player is walk-on guard Brett Finkelmeier."

How to Walk-On to a College Basketball Team

If you are good you will get a shot. Most coaches will recognize talent and they want to win. You can make your dream of playing competitive basketball for your school a reality if you want it badly enough and follow the right steps.

However, as a walk-on candidate, you’re behind each of the returning and scholarship players already on the team. To walk on, you must outwork, out-hustle, and out-perform these players, and prove to the coaching staff that you’re a valuable asset.

Get in the Best Shape of Your Life

Demonstrates your commitment, work ethic, and drive. Show the coaches, and the team, that you’re serious. Go strong after rebounds and knock down jump shots when other players are getting tired. Get yourself in the best shape of your life. Here are some hints:

  • Find full-court pick-up games with the best players in your area: Going up against great athletes four or five times per week will quickly get you in excellent condition while letting you work on your game. Concentrate on returning players. If you believe you’re good enough to walk on to the team, you must believe you’re good enough to compete against the returning players on the team.
  • Run 21 miles per week, every week: You must be willing to run until a three-mile run seems easy. 
  • Find a hill, mountain, or gym stands to climb: Go hard up this obstacle every day or as often as possible to build strength and endurance.
  • Develop a strength conditioning program and stick to it. If you’re a post player, concentrate on your core, back, and legs. Perimeters players should focus on fast-twitch muscle exercises, primarily from the waist down. Every player should have the upper body strength necessary to handle physical full-court play.

Lay-ups & Jump Shots

Regardless of your position on the floor, emphasize making lay-ups with both hands and jump shots from within 15 feet. Have the fluid motion with both hands — and from everywhere on the court.

Talk to the Coach

Let the coach know what your intentions are, and ask exactly how you can make the team. The coach can realistically assess your chances and give you a step-by-step walk-through of what you need to excel at in order to get on the floor.

Excel Academically

Be a good student and stay ahead of the game with classes. It’s important to prepare in advance of tryouts by maintaining good grades and keeping up with assignments. 

Be Confident & Have Fun

Have fun, enjoy your time on the court, and play hard. Let the preparation and hard work you’ve put into basketball be the deciding factor. Remember that many roster decisions come down to the final days of practice or tryouts, and...anything can happen. Stay confident no matter what the situation appears to be.