Dealing With The Athletic Industrial Complex

reduce homework stress college scholarships
A parent’s dream – the signing ceremony for a college scholarship

In a recent article I focused on being the best parent when it comes to our children’s sports. I think I struck a chord with that article. Or maybe I hit a nerve. The number of comments via email and Facebook are running quite high. If you have any thoughts about the concepts of parenting and sports, I would love to hear it.

This column deals with parenting the elite athlete.  I have been told, by youth coaches, that my kids are very good at their respective sports and I should begin giving them the advanced training so that they will be in the running for scholarships. They were each twelve years old when these comments began. I was, of course, very excited to hear this. I was very proud of my kids and a bit relieved to think that I no longer have to worry about how we are going to pay for college.

Then the other shoe dropped. I was told that if I really wanted them to succeed, I should sign them up for additional camps, Sunday skills development, and extra speed training. “All of the elite athletes are doing this,” I was told.

Elite athletes? He was twelve years old. When did we begin designating twelve year olds as elite athletes? Although I liked the ring to it, my B.S. alarm began ringing. How many elite athletes are actually out there? Are they all really elite? I think “elite” as being the top ten percent. But is seems that at least half of the middle school soccer players these days are playing travel soccer of some kind.

But what if your child really is a very, very good athlete? What if she really is considered elite? Maybe you have been told she might be good enough to have a chance at a college scholarship.

If you have been told your child could be good enough to earn a college scholarship, I’m happy to hear that, and I’m sorry to hear that. On one hand, I am sure it feels good to hear such great things about your child. It’s always great to hear positives about our kids. But on the other hand, going down the scholarship path might end up with more stress and less fun.

If anyone has told you that your child could be good enough for a scholarship, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Does this person really know what they are talking about? Most people who might comment on our kid’s abilities don’t have much experience in understanding the scholarship process and the level of skill required to play at the college level. They might mean well, but just because they have coached U13 girls soccer for ten years doesn’t give them the insight about college scholarships.
  2. What are they selling? A huge industry has grown up around getting kids ready for earning a college scholarship. Summer camps, summer leagues, travel leagues, extra training, scholarship agents (a new term to me), videographers (your game video just won’t cut it these days), etc. are all more than happy to take your savings that would go to tuition and spend it now on the small chance that your child might earn a scholarship.

The chance of a high school varsity athlete getting an athletic scholarship is about two percent or less, depending on the sport.  Let me be sure we understand that number. Two percent of high school athletes, meaning those students that are good enough to play on a varsity level high school team, will receive a scholarship. The percentage is even less for the popular sports such as basketball, football, soccer, etc. So ask yourself: Is your child the top two percent of all athletes at his or her school? Most of us (at least 98% of us) will answer that question with a “no.”

So if you are a part of the 98%, maybe it is better to focus your time and money on more family-oriented events instead of spending most weekends touring the Mid-Atlantic hotels during the tournament season. By the way, the tournament season, for most sports, is year-round.

I recently spoke to a parent whose daughter, an elite soccer player, had a season ending injury in the beginning of her senior year. This was devastating, not just to the girl, but also to her family. The mother had estimated that, over the past 6 years, they had spent over twenty thousand dollars on travel teams, tournaments, travel to tournaments, summer leagues, extra coaching, etc. This is money that could have been spent on her tuition. Now they are scrambling to find the finances that they were hoping would come from a scholarship. “Although we had some good times, I wish we wouldn’t have gotten sucked into the scholarship vortex,” she shared with me.

So if you begin to hear that your child might have what it takes to be a scholarship athlete, fantastic! But enter this arena very carefully and with the knowledge that many, many professionals would like to benefit from your desire to give your child the best opportunity. Will I be signing up my kids for summer sports camps? Of course. Not because of the scholarship possibility, but because they love sports so much and would love to go.

Any comments or questions? Let me know at my contact page.

Neil McNerney is a licensed counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! For more information go to