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College Recruiting for the Elite Athlete

Not a Golden Ticket for Admission

Sooner or later, as the parent of a star athlete, you are going to hear about the "edge" your child supposedly has over the competition for college admission. Whether the end of the rainbow holds a pot-of-gold scholarship from a Division I school or admission to an Ivy League college, sports success carries more weight, on average, in college admissions and non-need-based scholarship awards than being the son or daughter of an alumnus/ae or a member of a minority. The practice may be unfair, but most will argue that college recruits did not invent the system and would be foolish not to take advantage of it.

But athletics is not the golden ticket to college admission that some make it out to be. A top ranking in a national sport is no substitute for strong SATs, grades, and academic recommendations. And really, why should it be? A college education can lead to many things: intellectual discovery, vocational training, emotional and social maturation. In a few sports, and for a small minority, exposure gained through college sports opens the gates to a professional athletic career. Most experts agree, however, that in such cases, the experience has lost most of its integrity and value.

Five questions to ask

There are five major questions that parents of elite athletes need to answer in the last two years of high school:

  1. Should they engage in "process parenting" or "outcome parenting?"

  2. How much of the family's financial and other resources should they spend on their star athlete?

  3. What division (I, II, or III) will provide the best fit for their child in terms of sports versus academics and financial aid?

  4. Should they hire a consultant to assist them and their child in the college recruitment process?

  5. When is it appropriate to postpone college by using the so-called "gap year"?

1. Process parenting versus outcome parenting

Youth sports experts, like Brooke de Lench, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports generally agree that parents of all athletes, regardless of their skill level or talent, should emphasize the process and the journey, rather than the outcome. While parents should allow their athletic children to dream and think big, they need to remain positive in the face of losses and other setbacks. Their focus should be on hard work, fitness, training, skill development and the sheer joy of sports.