Millions of American families are involved in youth sports, with many interested in helping their child earn a D-1 college athletic scholarship to help offset college costs. While only about 5-7% of all high school student athletes will advance to college athletics, a new trend relating to early attrition should be identified and discussed. Specifically, as of 2019 it has been found that about 15% of college scholarship athletes voluntarily walk away (or forfeit) their athletic scholarship, essentially ending their sports career and increasing the cost of their education. Why are so many healthy and talented student athletes voluntarily walking away from sports and entering sport retirement? This is especially intriguing when you take into consideration how much time, money, and energy was previously invested in precisely this goal — to become a D-1 college student athlete. Why end this lifelong dream, and often after just a few months on campus?
Kids are tired, and college sports are a full-time job
For the last 5-10 years I have witnessed more and more freshman college student athletes quickly have doubts about their choice to compete in college. In almost every one of these cases, these student athletes were amazingly talented (many previous state champions in high school), yet after a lifetime of competing in their sport ready to quit after just a few weeks of being on their college team. Some of these student athletes worked through their doubts and eventually remained with the team, but many others quit for good. Think about that for a moment — these are young people who gave their life to their sport, pursued getting a D-1 athletic scholarship, then after just a few practices decided it simply wasn’t worth it. Does that make sense to you?
When I work with athletes questioning whether they still want to compete in college, the following feedback are examples of what I have received:
- Youth sport burnout. Many college athletes considering quitting are simply burned out from playing their sport. Often these are young men and women who began competitive sports very early in life, played year-round with few breaks, and either specialized in one sport, or regularly played 2-3 sports concurrently. The end result? Mental health issues including fatigue, staleness, and eventually sport burnout to the extent where sports feel like work, not fun. Because of sport burnout, they feel compromised and struggle to find the motivation and energy needed to successfully compete at the college level.
- Tired of missing out on everything. For many kids competing in sports today, they do not have the time to do other clubs, activities, and social experiences because they are always doing their sport. By the time college rolls around, many are still longing to do normal college things, including hanging out with friends and going to parties. The idea of juggling a serious sport schedule with a fun social schedule doesn’t usually work, prompting the decision whether to fully commit to the team, or walk away and have the time to fully experience college.
- Did not realize college sports are a job. And finally, college student athletes find out very quickly that college sports are a full-time job! Not only are they held to very challenging practice and school study schedules, they also have to travel, attend team meetings and other functions, manage injuries, and perform at their highest level. Some new college students have also been surprised at how serious things get, including how coaches no longer coddle but instead push very hard for results.
Blindly pursuing a college athletic scholarship without taking time to fully understand what comes with it may be doing a disservice to your child. College sports are big business, and expectations for college student athletes are extremely high — and only becoming more time-intensive. College student athletes do not receive a “free” education, but instead earn every penny (and then some) for their incredible time commitment and related expectations. Incoming college student athletes often arrive at college already mentally fatigued and burned out from 10-15+ years of previous high-intensity youth sports, only to work even harder at college. No, that “full-ride” many sport parents hope their child one day earns comes with many potential pitfalls, caveats, and challenges, and more college athletes are exiting as a result.