Why You Stick To It When Your Student Athlete Excels

True story: I know a guy, a good guy, whose daughter played on a low-level travel soccer team with my daughter when they were very young. His daughter was a really good athlete, a very good player. But her parents thought of it as recreation. When they got too busy, they opted out of soccer and started enrolling her in a bunch of activities.

Then, seven years later, he calls me. His daughter was attending one of the best private high schools in the country. She’s an A student, but not straight As, and, rightfully so, he’s really concerned about what colleges she’s going to get into. He starts asking me what to do to get her into one of the great universities that all the other kids in her high school are vying to attend.

Without saying that basically it’s too late, I try to change the conversation by advising him that she not apply to the same schools everyone else in her class is applying. But I’m thinking to myself, if he had stayed with the program, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. She’d be on her way.

Colleges are looking for that “other” thing that your child will bring to the campus. If your kid sings or acts or volunteers, great. Those are nice, but they’re completely uninspiring to college admissions departments in today’s world. I feel badly for this young girl who had a major advantage as a young soccer player, but who now is probably not going to end up in the school of her choice. She clearly could have been where the other elite athletes who stuck with it ended up.

As a doctor and the parent of elite athletes, for decades I have been hearing parents of young children around ages 6 to 8 years old, say, “I don’t want to push my kids. I just want them to be well-rounded and do what they like.”

Then a couple years later, everything starts to change for their kid. They begin excelling over other kids in the rec league, and they start getting frustrated playing with lower-level kids. It’s not fun anymore because they are good athletes but they’re playing with teammates who don’t have the gifts that they do. They start really looking around to find better athletes to play with. By age 10 or 11, they start moving toward more elite programs.

This is when parents start to get it. They see their kid is good at soccer or basketball or volleyball. The conversation about college programs starts to focus more concretely on their children’s future, and what they could achieve if they stick with the program. The discussions I have with them start to change. Their kids are on that track where they may start to get opportunities in four or five years that parents of even the smartest kids may not get.

I always find that when I talk to parents about elite sports, they have an initial distaste for the discussion. They think of it in negative terms, almost to a person, until they start to see their kid could be one of those kids.

We want to help you make sure you don’t miss the opportunities that your kids could have if they stick to playing sports. But it’s not just about playing the sports. You have to make sure they stay healthy, that they know what they need to do academically in school, that they remain disciplined, and follow a plan to make sure they end up at the top of schools’ radars.