Is it Worth Pursuing an Athletic Scholarship to college?

The Dream

Many young athletes today aspire to play Division I sports in college. This dream is fueled, in part, by the prospect of securing the ever-elusive "full-ride athletic scholarship".

The dream often originates as early as 3rd or 4th grade, when young athletes are shunted onto "elite" travel teams if they show above-average skill for their age. Unfortunately, once this train leaves the station - it's hard to get off.

For the next 4-6 years, most weekends and holidays are dedicated entirely to the sport - no matter the cost, travel, time, or energy required. And the beat goes on for years - with an unwavering devotion. Parents and children are equally afraid to step off the train for the fear of missing out.

Though rarely admitted in public, most parents mistakenly assume that their child is on a path to some type of athletic scholarship. They don't really know what this means exactly - and are afraid to ask too many presumptuous questions - but they sure hear a lot of chatter about athletic scholarships. It must just be a matter of time for them.

At some point, usually in 7th grade, the sport becomes a family obsession. The money spent for uniforms, tournament fees, league dues, equipment, personal trainers, hotels, travel, coaches' gifts, etc. is seemingly unlimited. The parents and child are all-in.

Other factors that feed our obsession with athletic scholarships:

  • overeager parents pushing their children to perform
  • parents hoping that an athletic child will make up for their subpar athletic past
  • parents hoping to recoup tens of thousands of dollars spent on high school sports
  • growth of the sports-performance training industry
  • proliferation of club teams with names like elite, premier, select, all-star
  • elevated social status of athletes in high school
  • social media hype surrounding Div I athletics

The Advantages of an Athletic Scholarship

To be sure, there are many benefits to playing a Division I sport:

  • potential for an athletic scholarship to save money
  • opportunity to continue playing a sport that you love
  • team camaraderie and formation of lifelong friendships
  • prestige and elevated status on campus
  • pathway to professional sports
  • athletic network post-graduation

The Pitfalls of an Athletic Scholarship

However, the quest for the elusive athletic scholarship is often met with broken dreams.  Below is a sampling of issues that prospective athletes must acknowledge before blindly pushing forward in their sport in search of a Div I scholarship.

  • Div I athletic scholarships are extremely rare
  • an athlete's skill in high school may not translate to college
  • other athletes in your recruiting class are better than you
  • you may experience limited (or no) playing time
  • nagging injury that never heals
  • career-ending injury
  • overtraining injury
  • the coach recruited too many players
  • the coach gets fired
  • the coach changes jobs
  • the coach retires
  • program is shut down, sanctioned, or eliminated
  • you are unable to major in the subject that you want
  • class selection is dictated by athletic schedule
  • burnout sets in
  • you don't like other players on the team
  • toxic team culture

With all of these potential challenges, it's a wonder that anyone has a successful athletic campaign as a Division I athlete. 

How to Know When the Writing is On the Wall

Here are some signs that your child is not Div I scholarship material:

  • Your child is slowly becoming less and less impressive compared to peers
  • Your child is just not as great as they used to be at the lower age groups
  • Your child barely makes the varsity team as a sophomore in high school
  • Your child is not obsessively training for their sport on their own time
  • Your child is not studying video tape to make improvements
  • Your child is in 11th grade and has had zero contact with any Div I coaches
  • Your child is not actively marketing themselves to college coaches
  • Your child does not have a highlight tape that they've meticulously curated
  • Your child has a soft work ethic
  • Your child's coaches are not talking to you about next steps
  • Your child isn't winning every award, MVP, and fitness award
  • Your child is not finding the right places to play this summer to be seen

If you see some combination of these signs, your child's dream (and maybe yours) of a Div I scholarship is probably over. That's okay. The sooner you find out the better.

Most students realize they are not viable Div I scholarship athletes during sophomore year in high school. All of the delusions of recruiting trips and letter signing days come to an abrupt end.  The bubble has popped. Hopefully, this still gives them enough time to reorganize and reorient their lives.

How to Regroup after Realizing You're Not that Good

When a successful high school athlete finally realizes that they aren't as good as they thought, it's time to act. The student must begin to engage in many of the activities that sports had crowded out for 4-6 years. They should consider school clubs, employment, internships, and the like. This transition is not always easy, as most athletes strongly identify with their sport.

Summary

Be careful about blindly accepting sports as the path to a Div I scholarship - no matter how much the club soccer coach sings the praises of your 7-yr-old son or daughter.

Don't believe all the hype about Div I sports. There are more potential risks than rewards.

Find an expert to evaluate your child's talent. If the professionals don't believe they have a chance, believe them. It's time to move on to more mainstream pursuits.

Your child may have a chance at a scholarship if: (1) they are genetically encoded with physical gifts or attributes that match their sport, (2) they are obsessed about their performance and progress, and (3) they are willing to risk it all.

If you and your child need help figuring this out, enroll in PrepWell Academy today.

Keep prepping,

Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.

PrepWell Academy is an online mentoring program that immerses teens in a variety of experiences and opportunities. In doing so, it helps them find and pursue their passions in a way that will not only make them extremely compelling college applicants, but also young adults who are well equipped to face life's future challenges. Black's specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League admissions, and student-athletes.

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