As millions of young athletes go out to compete in sports, it’s fun to think about who might be the next LeBron James, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, or Simone Biles. Who is the next star in the making? What kids in your neighborhood will be talented enough to make it to college sports, or even the pros? These are common questions parents have, and these questions become even more intriguing when they see their own child running, throwing, and kicking better than most of the kids on the field. Could my kid be the next one-in-a-million sport superstar? While “making it” in sports is quite the challenge, there are a few select kids out there who will go on to play at the highest levels of their sport leaving us with the million dollar question: What does it take for kids to make it far in sports?
Breaking down athlete success
Obviously there is not a specific, guaranteed way to help your child earn a D1 college athletic scholarship, but there are a few markers you can look for to see if your kid might have a better-than-average chance for future sport success. Generally speaking, your child needs to be strong in the following areas to separate him- or herself from the competition:
- Natural gifts. Sure, there are some elite-level athletes lacking in natural abilities, but that’s the exception not the rule. Natural gifts include having above-average size, speed, coordination, balance, and other qualities one is born with rather than developed. Having natural size advantages won’t guarantee your child goes far in sports, but those gifts won’t hurt his or her chances, either.
- Interest. Often we see kids who are good at sports, but do not love playing sports. In fact, we see these differences in all kid activities and endeavors, including academics, music, and art to name a few. The general rule here is simply because your child is good at something, does not mean he or she loves — or even likes — to do that thing.
- Drive. Sure, kids do just fine when things are going well, but how does your child respond after a tough loss? Similarly, how motivated is your child to out-work the competition, to be the first one the the field and the last one to leave? Talent alone will only take a child so far, and elite-level athletes take their game to the next level by regularly working harder than everyone else.
- Bonus: LUCK! Is luck really random, or does “luck” occur when preparation meets opportunity? Either way, having a little luck on your side never hurts when it comes to sport success.
It should be noted that there have been rare examples of athletes who have overcome extraordinary circumstances and made it to the highest levels in sports without many of the qualities just discussed. Examples include Muggsy Bogues, a 5’3″ basketball player who played 14 seasons in the NBA, and Jim Abbott, an MLB pitcher who played 10 years in the big leagues with only one fully developed hand. While these athletes are clearly outliers, it is important to share these stories with kids so that they can tamp down their perceived weaknesses, and gain confidence by learning what some athletes have done to overcome their shortcomings.
With less than 5% of all high school athletes talented enough to play at the college level, it’s probably best to not bank on your child earning an athletic full-ride college scholarship. Still, if you do think your child has what it takes, compare what you see in your son or daughter against the markers for sport success that I have listed here and see how your child grades. But perhaps most importantly, regardless of whether your child advances in sports or not, what is most important is that the experience was fun, safe, and meaningful — if you can check those boxes your time was well spent!