Friday, May 10, 2013

The myth of the athletic scholarship

Stop me if you've heard this one.
Maybe he'll be the next big NCAA star...but probably not.
You're at a some sort of a youth sports game, maybe your kid is playing or a niece of a nephew. It doesn't matter who, but the kids who are playing are all just slightly taller than an endzone pylon.
If it's a soccer game, every child flocks to the ball, surrounding it, morphing into a massive clump of little arms and legs that crawls up and down the field. The ball never even gets close to either net. If it's t-ball, only every third kid actually hits the ball. Everyone else smashes the tee as they swing, like they are blindfolded and trying to hit a pinata. And let's not even talk about throwing. Or the little kid with glasses who is depositing a bowel movement out in right field.
Youth sports can be frustrating. But contests that crawl at a snail's pace and little kids that don't quite grasp the fundamentals yet aren't nearly the most annoying thing about them. No. The most annoying thing about youth sports is that at pretty much every level, from toddlers kicking soccer balls to high school juniors throwing shot puts, there is some guy talking about college scholarships.
Every once in a long while, it's a misguided coach, but usually, it's a dad hanging on a fence or sitting in the front row.
I spent the better part of a decade covering high school and community sports for various newspapers in a few different states, and I've become very well acquainted with "the scholarship dad." 
Guys like "the scholarship dad," or TSDs, as I like to call them, honestly believe that being an athletic superstar is not only their child's calling, but that it's the only way their kid can get a free ride to college.
For TSD, an athletic scholarship is akin to a pot of gold at the end of an adolescence spent playing sports. But here's the thing, in most cases, that pot is empty.
Don't get me wrong, I've witnessed firsthand the important role that athletics can play in the lives of young people. Being part of a team does wonders for kids, and having an athletic endeavor to focus on out of the classroom helps create well-rounded children.
But the mistakes that TSDs make is brainwashing their kids into believing that athletic scholarships are the only thing they should be striving for.
Here are a few facts about athletic scholarships from Lynn O'Shaughnessy at "The College Solution":

1. The odds are remote.
There are roughly 138,000 athletic scholarships available for Division I and Division II sports.
That might sound like a lot, but it isn't. For instance, more than 1 million boys play high school football, but there are only about 19,500 football scholarships. Nearly 603,000 girls compete in track and field in high school, but they're competing for around 4,500 scholarships.
2. The money isn't that great.
The average athletic scholarship is about $10,400. Only four sports offer full rides to all athletes who receive scholarships: football, men's and women's basketball, and women's volleyball. If you exclude football and men's basketball, the average scholarship drops to around $8,700.
3. Most scholarships are sliced and diced.  
The NCAA dictates how many athletic scholarships each sport can offer in Division I and Division II. To squeeze out the maximum benefit, coaches routinely split up these awards. For instance, a Division I soccer coach is allowed up to 10 scholarships, but he or she can dole out this money into tinier scholarships to lure more athletes to their campuses. This practice can lead to some awfully dinky scholarships.
Youth sports should be about fun and about learning. Besides, there is quite bit more academic scholarship money available to incoming college students, and realistically, only about 2% of high school athletes even get the chance to play in college, anyway. Sure, if your child is good enough, and he wants to pursue his game at the next level, a good parent will be there to encourage him. But don't be TSD. Don't be the guy talking about what college your kid is going to be playing at while he's tugging on your trouser leg because he needs you to tie his shoes for him.

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