By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck LLC
We have all heard about the overzealous parents who hope their child can parlay their youth sports experiences into a college scholarship. Nearly every article written on the topic of bad sport parenting cites the grim statistics which show only a small percentage of youngsters going on to play in college, and almost no one making it to the pros. So, parents and kids should not even think about that, right?
I have been around youth sports for a long time, and I have witnessed a lot of bad behavior from parents. I have been guilty of it myself. And while I have observed some instances where parents did or said something they regretted out of a desire to obtain a scholarship; those were the exceptions. Most of the parents who I’ve seen act badly did so because either they felt their child was being cheated by officials or because they were overly invested in their child’s performance.
My point is that a parent of a young player who hopes they someday play in college or in the pros is not, by definition, a problem. They may not even be deluded. Trying to eliminate bad behavior by giving parents a reality check about the likelihood of a scholarship is the wrong approach. Even if college isn’t in the picture, they still want their child to shine every game. If they feel a call went against them, I doubt many will begin to open their mouths in protest and then think, “Oh well, he’s not going to get a scholarship, so it doesn’t matter.” If their child’s dream is nothing more than making a very competitive high school team, no parent is going to care any less just because they know the pros are not very likely.
My attitude is that, instead, parents should be supportive of their young athletes’ dreams, no matter how lofty. Because if kids want them badly enough, those dreams can come true.
My oldest child was a great athlete from the time he began playing organized sports. But because I am not a giant physical specimen and I only played sports through high school, I secretly worried there would come a time when all the other kids caught up with and surpassed him in size and ability. Yet I can remember as late as middle school him believing he could play not just one, but three sports professionally. He knew of athletes gifted enough to play in the Major Leagues and NFL, and he claimed he planned to do that, plus add in the NBA. Of course, I understood that was not going to happen, but I kept that to myself. I told him he could do it. I knew eventually he’d figure it out on his own.
His Junior year in high school he went through a huge growth spurt and did reach a height I hadn’t anticipated. Ironically, that growth spurt also temporarily robbed him of some of his athleticism and he went from being a star on the JV football team to a bench-warmer on varsity. Then, he was dealt the worst blow of his life by being cut from his high school baseball team. If there was ever a time to have a heart-to-heart and start talking about giving up and re-focusing on something else, that was it. But he was determined to not let this stop him, and I did not feel it was my job to discourage him from continuing with his dream. More than ten years later he is still playing professional baseball and has made it as high as AAA, one step below the Major Leagues. He is still not giving up.
My second son was an average Little League player. He was an average high school baseball player. He had no offers to play anywhere after high school, so he went to a Junior College. The first two he attended didn’t think he could play for them. The third one told him he would never play but he could stay on the team if he wanted. He stayed. He got his chance to play and never came out of the lineup. Still, he had no division one offers after JC but got a scholarship to play at a DII school. He shone there, yet was not drafted into the pros. So he made his own way. He played a season at the lowest level of independent ball and did well enough to move up a level the next summer. He played well enough there to now be at one of the highest levels of independent baseball. He doesn’t harbor illusions about making it to the Big Leagues, but he is getting paid to play the game he loves in front of thousands of fans.
My third son also had no offers out of high school. He also wanted to keep playing and went to a Junior College. His college career did not go so well, but even he had an offer to play at an NAIA school. He decided that was the end of the road for him and went on to a finish his college as a student.
Every girl on my daughter’s club soccer team landed a division one scholarship. Several, including her, went on to play professionally in Europe. Several more could have done so as well but chose not to pursue it after college. None of the ones still playing are on track to make the Olympic team. But they are still playing.
And many of the boys my sons played with went on to illustrious college careers. Several made it to the pros. One is now in the Major Leagues. Some had easier paths and it was no surprise that they went beyond high school. Others had more difficult routes. And quite a few more probably could have gone on but instead chose to simply be college students after high school. Going to a smaller school or junior college just to play sports didn’t appeal to them.
Back when my second son was searching for a school that wanted him, he attended a try-out camp for a local Division II school. I thought he looked pretty good but there were some guys out there who really didn’t seem like they belonged. My guess is that they weren’t even good high school players. But they were trying. They didn’t want to give up. I remember when the camp was over the head coach spoke with all of the young men and he told them something to the effect of, “Even if we can’t use you, you can play somewhere. There are Division III schools that are just trying to fill roster spots.”
I don’t know if that is true or if he was just hoping to mitigate the disappointment they would have when they learned he didn’t want them. But the point is that while it is accurate that very few athletes will get a scholarship to a major division one university and even fewer will make it to the pinnacle of their sport professionally, there are plenty of opportunities for those who desire them. The keys to success seem to be tied less to talent and more to tenacity. A kid who wants it badly enough can find a way.
And although we, as parents, should not make the goal of playing in college or the pros our focus, we also should not tell them it isn’t possible. We can be an encouraging and supportive force, no matter how far our child wants to go.
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org