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What Youth Sport Parents Should Know

posted May 19, 2015, 5:49 PM by Debbie Sokol
Your specific situation does not matter, whether you’re the parent of a younger child just starting out in sports or if your child is getting closer to their high school graduation. Youth sports should be an enjoyable experience, and there are many youth organizations/colleges that are great fits for you and your child. You should not have to settle on one that is anything less than the right fit. Even if you feel that your child is not yet at a stage in his or her athletic development where you should be paying attention to these issues, there are things you should know that will help you make choices on what to do/not do as they go forward with their playing experiences!

Here are the things you need to know:

An athletic scholarship can be a by-product of playing youth sports, but it should not be the goal.

Using youth sports as an ‘investment’ is a dangerous game. That’s not to say you should not pursue one if the opportunities arise, but the statistical evidence is not in your favor. I will give you links to reports if you’d like to research other sports, but the percentages don’t vary too greatly. Here is some simple data for you:

  • In 2013-14, the NFHS reported that there were 429,634 girls and 52,149 boys playing high school volleyball.
  • In 2013-14, the NCAA reported that there were 9,983 girls and 789 boys playing Division I/II.
    • Girls: NCAA allows a maximum of 12 scholarships per D-I program and 8 for D-II. If every program was fully funded (which isn’t the case), that would allow for 6,372 scholarships – about 1.5% of the amount of high school girls participating.
    • Boys: NCAA allows a maximum of 4.5 scholarships per D-I/II program. If every program was fully funded (which isn’t the case), that would allow for 198 scholarships – about 0.4% of the amount of high school boys participating.
  • The NAIA is another college sports association that offers scholarships, but the statistical evidence for receiving a college scholarship does not jump measurably to a young athlete’s favor even while accounting for the NAIA scholarships.

The instances of athlete burnout or the reality of injury can derail one’s career. We get the eye-roll when we tell kids to get the grades, but the odds of getting academic scholarships, grants, or merit aid are much higher when finding ways to cut your college costs.

Links: NHFS High School Participation Rates / NCAA Participation Rates

College coaches do not care about your club’s win/loss record, playing time, or the name on your jersey – they simply need to know if you can play at their level and are coachable!

2-time gold medalist Pat Powers says that when evaluating players on the court, college coaches care about three things when looking for players for their team:

  1. Can they play at our level?
  2. Are they coachable?
  3. Do they have a positive or negative impact on their teammates?

There are three things I add:

  • If Player A is at a club that is known for their top teams winning national championships and Player B is at a small club, but Player B is a better fit than Player A, a college coach will take Player B every time.
  • If Player A is on a team that wins every tournament they play and Player B is on a team that doesn’t win any tournaments, but Player B is a better fit than Player A, a college coach will take Player B every time.
  • If Player A is on a team where she plays every point at tournaments and Player B is a back-up on her team and doesn’t play much, but Player B is a better fit than Player A, a college coach will take Player B every time

The eye-test doesn’t lie. Coaches can look at game film of Player A and Player B, evaluate the three things Pat Powers discusses, and know which player is going to be able to compete at the level required for their program. All too often parents are worried about playing time, winning youth tournaments, or the name on the front of their jersey. Don’t get caught up worrying about things that aren’t important to college coaches!

More often than not, the athlete’s actions outside of practice/tournaments is what separates them from their peers long-term.

There’s only so much a club can do when training kids 4-15 hours a week. Some things I tell young athletes with big goals to consider:

  • Are you playing/working out/conditioning outside of practice?
  • Are you fueling your body with the proper nutrition?
  • Are you resting/sleeping enough to allow your body to recover?
  • Are you a student of the game that focuses on working on improving your volleyball IQ?

I have had the opportunity to see many kids grow up as athletes, and the ones that separate themselves from the others in the long-term aren’t the ones that are dominating at a young age, it is the ones that are gym rats, the ones that get kicked out of the gym at closing time, the ones that want to play on Friday nights and weekends, the ones that play for the love of the game!

An organization does not ‘create’ scholarship athletes.

To clarify: Clubs can do some GREAT things to develop athletes. There are clubs that do a very good job with top-level athletes in helping them get to the next level, and there are clubs that do a very good job with middle/lower-level athletes with the same thing. But, just because they are good with one situation doesn’t mean that they are proficient at both.

  • If an athlete does not have a Division I caliber skill-set/work ethic, a club will not change that.
  • If an athlete does have a Division I caliber skill-set/work ethic, a club will not break that. (Some people may argue this one, I’ll address it in my next point.)

Don’t look for the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ organization, look for the compatible ones!

I used to work for Club A. Club B was right down the road from us, and it was a bit of a rivalry between the clubs. I observed the following: Players would leave Club B for Club A, and parents would rave about how much happier they were with Club A. While those players who leave Club A for Club B, and their parents would say how much happier they were with Club B!

The reality is, every family is different in what they’re looking for from their youth sports experience. Don’t let people tell you where you ‘have’ to go – assess what your goals are from your youth sports experience, educate yourselves on the organizations in your area, and pick the one that your child will enjoy the most!

If you are unhappy or feel you aren’t getting treated properly: Research other opportunities – don’t settle on where your child participates!

One of the saddest things in youth sports is in seeing families go to different clubs and make decisions because they feel obligated to do so by the crowd, or because they fear backlash from an organization. I see kids that play at certain clubs because they feel if they don’t, their high school coach will discriminate against them. Sometimes they don’t do a camp somewhere because they’re worried that by not doing their high school/club camp instead, it’ll affect their evaluation at tryouts.

No one has your child’s best interests more than you as parents. While I’m a big believer in honoring commitments (if you sign up for a team that you know practices X times a week and travels for X tournaments, they should have strong attendance or a substantial amount of advance notice should you not be able to make it), I encourage families to do what they feel is best for their child, not what someone else tells them they need to do. If a group gives you an ultimatum because they want exclusivity, perhaps that’s not the best place for your child to be.

Other thoughts:

  • Don’t focus on playing time – focus on development. Is my child learning the game and improving? John Kessel does a great job of explaining this in his blog post You are Paying for Practice Not Playing.
  • Don’t focus on wins/losses – there are times your child will play as hard as they can and lose, others where they did not give their best effort yet still defeat a weaker team. They cannot control the outcome, only how they compete. Which ones builds more character and will translate to success off the court?
  • I’m all for being competitive, but don’t let it overshadow the main focus of having fun – 70% of kids quit youth sports by 13 because they don’t have fun. If they are not having fun, their career has a short shelf life. Make sure to push them towards their passions, not only their talents!
  • After competitions, make the only five words you say to your child “I love watching you play”. As John O’Sullivan explains in this video, it makes all the difference in the world.
  • It’s OK if your child is not playing for an ‘elite’ or ‘select’ team. There are over 1600 schools to play at between the NCAA/NAIA/NJCAA. There are club sports, intramural, and other opportunities to continue the sport into college. While the majority of athletes who want a scholarship won’t obtain one, building relationships with coaches/admissions counselors is something that will help you get closer to your goals when applying to schools and help maximize the merit aid package – I have yet to meet an athlete that wants to play in college who hasn’t been able to find an opportunity to do so. Don’t worry about comparing yourself to others around you – think about what the athlete wants and then do the research to find it!
From Progression Volleyball Consulting. To see original article, click here
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