Sports parents have to be on their game these days if they want to ensure that their kids to enjoy a safe, fun, and meaningful sport/life experience. Being an active sport parent helps kids steer clear of many problems, but there are still questions to answer as you support your young athlete. I am fortunate to work with student athletes and their families, and it is from these direct experiences that I would like to share some specific issues that I refer to as “sport traps” based on questionable interpretations of sketchy information.
Balance your emotions with logic
While we all strive to evaluate our kids fairly when they compete, I have yet to meet a parent who hasn’t momentarily thought “what if” the first time somebody lauded their child with high praise for athletic achievements. “What if my child really is good enough to one day play in college — or even professionally?” There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with thinking this way, as it is both inspiring to work toward and it really is possible that your child could one day play college or pro sports. The challenge, however, is weighing fair and objective measurements of your child’s athletic abilities with factual statistics that represent the odds of making it in sports.
For example, it is easy to get caught up in the hype that your son is the best pitcher in little league, but will his talents at 12 years old be enough to eventually earn him an athletic scholarship? Keep in mind there are tens of thousands of little leagues across the country (each with their own all stars), and only a very small percentage of full-ride athletic scholarships available. That’s not pessimism, but reality.
Without solid, accurate information relating to your child and college scholarships, you may leave yourself susceptible to making future decisions that aren’t healthy, or in your child’s best interest. Some of these decisions may center around training methods and commitment, educational choices, and even medical treatment options.
The ideal goal should be to balance your emotions with logic and critical thinking, a philosophy that encourages enthusiasm, but balanced with a healthy reality. This means it’s OK to encourage your child to chase his or her sport goals, but that you will actively guide the process so that future decisions and choices are based on evidence, logic, and facts.
Potential sport traps
The following issues are often discussed at my office, and I am posting them here because parents regularly tell me how challenged they are balancing their emotions against critical thinking. None of the topics I list here have absolute, yes/no or right/wrong answers, but instead illustrate the complexities pertaining to potentially life-changing decisions for kids.
- College scholarships. Many sport parents work toward helping their child earn a “full-ride” college scholarship, and while an admirable goal, it’s important to also acknowledge the difficulties in earning a spot on a college team. Remember, only about 7% of all high school student athletes play at the college level, and this includes D3 non-scholarship athletes, walk-ons, and partial scholarships. While there is nothing wrong with working hard to become a college athlete, the vast majority of student athletes will be best served to develop alternate plans in case college sport opportunities are not available. The “trap” here is being unaware of the odds, and making emotionally-based decisions around sports that limit other life opportunities.
- Sport specialization. What age should your child specialize in one – if at all? While most experts agree that sport sampling is the best way to go for most kids, certain kids with great athletic abilities may be drawn to playing just one sport and limit other sport and life opportunities. Perhaps sport specialist kids learn to play their sport at a higher level than sport sampling kids (a debatable point), but the odds of a college scholarship still remain low and should be considered when making a sport specialization decision. The “trap” in this decision is being sold a false bill of goods that if your child specializes in a sport early, he will dramatically improve his chances to play college and professional sports.
- Home schooling. Families who decide to home school their kids for academic reasons are not the focus here; instead, I am referring to families who decide to home school exclusively for sport reasons. Again, the big question looms over potential missed opportunities, and whether the additional time allowed to train really helps significantly enough to earn college and professional sport opportunities. The “trap” some parents fall into with home schooling is being told by coaches that if they home school the extra training time will almost guarantee the kid makes it in sports, resulting in some instances with parents trying to teach their kids at home when they lack the time and ability to properly do so in the same way the child might benefit from more formalized teaching.
- Repeating grades in school. This issue has been on the rise in recent years as we witness more families choose to hold their kid back for physical development/sport reasons, not academic concerns. Should kids fall behind their age group of peers to grow physically, and thereby (in theory) perform better in their sport? The “trap” here is similar to the home schooling myth — hold your kid back and he or she will dominate the competition and dramatically increase the chances for a full-ride scholarship.
- Rehabilitation dangers. How you handle sports injuries (an inevitability in sports) may leave your child at risk for improper healing, prolonged pain, and possibly even drug addiction. Parents who think their child may be missing time on the field where he or she would otherwise be noticed by a college coach may have their critical thinking compromised as a result, leaving them vulnerable for quick-fix gimmicks and hurrying their kid back on the field before the rehabilitation treatment is completed. In some cases prescription pain pills might be sought to help speed things up, creating the potential danger of drug addiction. The “trap” with injury recovery is overlooking the importance of proper rehabilitation rather than looking for quick-fixes, unnecessary operations and medical procedures, and dangerous pain pills.
If you are dealing with any of the issues discussed above, it is important to not fall in the emotional “trap” of making a short-sighted decision. For example, lets say your child really isn’t “college material,” but your evaluation based on your love and emotions for your child tells you differently. Decisions around the time you devote to training, your choice of how you educate your child, and the methods you will consider when treating injuries hang in the balance. Parents top-heavy in emotion may be more at-risk to make short-sighted — yet potentially damaging — decisions based solely on doing what they think it takes to get an athletic scholarship opportunity for their child.