Every parent of an athletic child wonders if their kid has a shot at the big time. Well, let’s look at some hard facts related to this question. Just 2 percent of varsity high school athletes will play their sport in college, and only 1 percent will get a scholarship to do so. Let’s take basketball as an example. Roughly 1 basketball player from all the athletes from 8 high school teams will get a scholarship. How many high school basketball players make it to the professional level? 0.03% Yes, that is 3 in 10,000 who make an income playing basketball. Far less will make the big money in the NBA. And very few of them play for very long. The truth of the matter is brutal. 9,997 varsity high school players don’t ever make any money playing basketball; 3 do. Of those three, two will earn about $40,000 a year in a foreign league until younger players replace them in about five years. 1 in 10,000 will gain some fame and fortune playing ball.
So kids may dream of playing pro ball, but it’s a fantasy for all but a very, very, very few who are extraordinarily talented, extremely hardworking, and exceedingly fortunate to avoid injuries and be seen by the right people at the right time.
So, is it foolish to pursue excellence in sports in high school? Absolutely not! But it’s essential that student athletes understand that sports is a great teacher, but it’s a lousy employer (because it isn’t hiring). Athletics is a means, not an end. It can teach young people valuable lessons and instill noble character traits that are extremely useful in their careers and in their relationships.
But too many kids and parents are burdened with the belief that they can do it. They will be the next LeBron James, Roger Federer, or Albert Pujols. I say “burdened” because the overwhelming evidence says that they will not achieve anywhere near that level of success. And the result is a young life that is very often ultra-competitive, over-scheduled, and hyper-stressed. Burnout is common. Injuries can be severe (torn ACL’s and rotator cuffs among preteens are not unusual now). Resentment often looms ahead.
Stephen Durant is an expert in youth sports, and his book Whose Game Is It, Anyway? has some excellent advice for parents and coaches of great young athletes.
1. “Emphasize the development of virtue and character over scoreboard outcome. The development of a good character — the ability to control passion, emotion, and behavior — will always stand children in good stead on and off the playing field… Children, at any talent level, can only be truly successful in life if they possess good character. Becoming an emotionally balanced person of courage, fairness, self-discipline, and strong ability to work as a member of a team, sets up a person for success in any endeavor, in any place” (Durant).
2. “Emphasize mastery of skill and development of talent over outcome. We may live in a bottom-line world, but our children are not and should not be mini-professionals. The best policy for developing a balanced, successful young adult is to focus on effort and improvement as opposed to victories, championships, and scholarships. The focus on effort and improvement will allow talent to blossom. Relentless emphasis on win-at-all-cost-everyday philosophy will kill the joy of sport and ultimately produce miserable athletes who run a very high risk of eventually failing in sports — and struggling in life. Remember, adolescents who are having fun in their sport are more likely to be invested in their improvement and are more likely to continue playing. Enjoyment and mastery of skill go hand in hand” (Durant).
3. “Remember that children and adolescents are works-in-progress and not mini-adults. Teenagers’ brains continue to develop well past age 18. Although they may demonstrate adult skill and maturity at times, they are still not there yet. They still need to be parented, albeit in different ways and different levels of involvement. They still need to know our love is not contingent on their latest achievement” (Durant).
These wise words ring true to us all, but we must check our attitude when the game is on the line — at every practice and every game and every related conversation. Who’s game is it, anyway? And why are we playing, anyway?
Durant, Stephen. “Raising Successful and Emotionally Healthy Children in a Competitive World.” Independent School. Summer 2007. p.110.
Statistical data from the National Alliance of Youth Sports and the NCAA.
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