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College Recruiting for the Elite Athlete

The more things change ...

At some point, however, usually early in high school, elite athletes begin to be singled out, not just for their prowess on the field or the court, but for their potential as professional athletes or college players. Suddenly, it is a whole different ball game. A schedule that called, let's say, for three national events per year suddenly requires at least six such events if the athlete is to get proper "exposure." To be successful at these events, the athlete must train almost every day, preferably with a coach who understands the stakes. The drain on a family's time, financial resources and emotional balance suddenly balloons.

"But it's worth it!" say the same experts who so recently were advising parents to eschew outcomes. "Think of the scholarship! Think of the edge in college admissions! Think of the possibility of a pro career!"

Yet most young athletes regard their sports involvement the same way they always have. Even a group of baseball players selected for an international all-star tournament reported their prime motivation as "having fun," with "challenge" second. Rankings, future prospects, and even winning were far down the list.

Such surveys suggest that the only reason young athletes jump onto the college recruitment bandwagon is as a means to an end: they realize that by doing so, their parents will be more willing to shell out the extra money that translates into more fun and greater challenges for them: more coaching, more travel, more competition.

Falling into a trap

Thus, it's easy for a parent to fall into the trap of feeling that the emphasis has shifted appropriately from process to outcome, from free and easy sports participation to the serious business of college recruitment and athletics.

In doing so, parents may be blind to the fact that the shift from process parenting to outcome parenting poses a number of risks:

  • Viewing involvement in terms of return on investment. That the reward of a college scholarship will not justify the risk in terms of the additional investment of time and energy required;

  • Increased chance of burnout. That, as the emphasis shifts from having fun and skill development to winning and impressing college scouts, the athlete will be under more and more pressure to achieve athletic success. The more he sees sports as a job, the less he sees participation as being for fun, the greater the chances of burnout;

  • Bests interests of the child ignored. Parenting that focuses on the outcome increase the risk that decisions about the athlete's well-being and college choice will not be made on the basis of her overall best interest but be skewed towards the choice that brings the most return on investment and ego gratification for the parent (e.g. biggest scholarship, most prestigious school).

Having fun should always remain the goal

In the end, whatever the pressures of college recruitment, the young baseball players who were surveyed have it right: fun and challenge - the process - must always remain the priority. What is the final "outcome," after all? Sports and fitness are good, not for a four-year stretch, but for a lifetime.

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