I’m not just a teacher, parent of a student-athlete, and a sports fan, but I’m also a high school referee for soccer, so I’ve got lots of competing perspectives on this topic. I’m going to focus here on what parents should know about student athletics, and a few do’s and don’ts. In a later post, I’ll give my referee’s perspective on parent behavior at the games, as that’s not a commonly-heard view. But for today, let’s stick to the athletes themselves.
First, do NOT plan on your little athlete making money playing sports for a living, or even for attaining a college scholarship. I read somewhere (if anyone knows where I can find this stat, please let me know, as I’ve looked in vain) that only about 1% of high school athletes go on to play at college, and of those only 1% will ever get paid a single dollar to play in a professional sport, even semi-pro small-town baseball, much less in the majors! And for those who do have the talent to possibly go further, lots can get in the way. Injuries, of course, but also academics, loss of passion for their sport, even the development of poor character and judgment. By way of example, I did the math one time for my students at Riverview Gardens High School, and showed that they could expect a professional athlete to come out of their school about every 10-15 years. And, I pointed out, when I was new, two football players were there who eventually made it to the NFL for a while, so the odds were even more against them! In short, if your kid likes sports, great. If s/he’s good at it, even better. Enjoy it for what it is.
Second, along those lines, do NOT think that better coaching, officiating, etc., is going to turn your kid into a professional athlete. Different sports look for different things in their players: size, quickness, toughness, strength, agility, passion, and other unquantifiable qualities that we have no control over. To take the classic “Michael-Jordan-got-cut-from-his-high-school-basketball-team” story and reverse it, Michael Jordan was so good that better judges of raw talent found him; I believe he was destined to be a professional basketball player, no matter what his high school basketball program did to him.
Third, and this goes for all parents of all athletes of any age, use the sport to teach about commitment. I’m sure there doesn’t exist an athlete who hasn’t dreaded the occasional practice, made a game when they really wanted to be somewhere else, or even had a team they wanted to quit. Even at the youngest levels, be sure your child understands what commitment to a team means BEFORE you sign them up for a sport, and then expect them to follow through on that commitment. Obviously, commitment grows more serious as your child gets older, and there are often good reasons to miss practices and even games, but don’t let them out of a practice or a team activity “just because.” Otherwise, they won’t really get the lessons of team sports–sign them up for tennis or golf, instead.
Fourth, GO TO THE GAMES AS THEY GET OLDER (sorry for yelling). First, the action gets much better, and it’s a lot more entertaining to be a fan. But second, if your kid is playing ball in middle or high school, they’re doing it because they love it. How many other things does your tween and teen allow you to watch them do that they love, and that they do with their friends? Also, seeing 20-30 high school kids give their all on the field in front of five fans (I see that a lot in soccer) is just sad. They’ll be gone sooner than you know–wouldn’t it be great to talk about that awesome play they made over dinner that evening? I know, a lot of high school game times are inconvenient for working adults; make the ones you can. Make it a priority.
Finally, and this goes back to point one, keep your perspective about it all. Our kids (even the teens) do look to us for guidance on attitudes and behavior, so if you keep the sport in its proper place (behind homework and academics, ahead of video games), it’ll help them do so as well.