Talking to parents about the prospect of their child one day earning a Division I athletic scholarship is a common occurrence at my office. Often we discuss various strategies parents can use to best position their child to get noticed by college coaches, as well as NCAA requirements students must meet in order to be eligible to play at the college level. What is discussed far less, ironically, is what should actually be talked about in far greater detail --- that is, does your child really know all that is expected from college athletes these days, and is he/she fully prepared for the college student athlete requirements, expectations, and lifestyle? In fact, for some parents, the biggest question might be who wants it more, you or your child?
A full-time job
Some critics of athletic scholarships argue that student athletes have it made in that all they have to do is play their sport, and in return they get to receive a free college education. While it may look this easy to the untrained eye, the truth is that DI athletics are big business, and student athletes who commit to playing at the college level might best think of their 4-5 years competing as working a full-time job. When you take into account all that is expected from student athletes today you might even argue that they not only work a full-time job, but often put in overtime hours as well.
When I discuss all that goes into being a DI student athlete today, I usually learn early in the conversation that most parents don't have any idea of the expectations, pressure, or stress that student athletes face on a daily basis. Generally speaking, when parents don't know, their kids don't get the full picture, either. Of course, this is not a criticism directed at parents and kids, as we shouldn't expect them to know much about something they have never done before -- but if we're looking at all that goes into the DI equation these days it's important to examine the following abbreviated list:
• Full-time academic classes
• Study table
• Medical attention
• Strength and conditioning
• Team meetings
• Film study
Do your homework
Kids who want to play college sports in the future almost always think about the fun and excitement being a DI athlete, but don't always know about all the requirements and expectations that come with their commitment. In some cases, the previous joy experienced playing sports is quickly replaced by stress and frustration when student athletes realize how much is expected from them in return for their athletic scholarship. The good news is future college student athletes don't need to be surprised by the workload of being a student athlete, especially when parents tune in and learn as much as they can about the DI experience. For parents, it's important to ask questions, talk to current student athletes, coaches, and administrators, and observe firsthand what a day in the life of a college student athlete is like.
Make sure the final decision is an informed one, and driven by your child ...
For future student athletes, it's important to pay attention to college athletic expectations and to fully accept the conditions. In addition, it's also important that future student athletes -- not parents -- drive the final decision to play or not, as it will be on them to live out the obligations -- not their parents. None of these suggestions are designed to scare future college student athletes away, but to instead remind them that while their parents might be influencing the decision, parents will not be the ones pressed by time management concerns, multi-tasking, and dealing with the high expectations and pressures that often accompany intercollegiate sports today.
The best advice I have for high school student athletes wishing to play college sports is to make sure you really love your sport, because if you don't you might soon find that sports can soon look a lot more like a job than they do fun.
Dr. Chris Stankovich is the founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems, an athletic counseling and human performance enhancement center. Sports parents, please check out The Parents Video Playbook and sports counseling services at drstankovich.com