By Lazaros Ioannou, APC Sports Consulting Ltd
First day of college practice usually has a surprise in-store for student-athletes. It’s the hard realization of the fact that all NCAA athletes will turn pro, but in something other than sports. It is not intended to undermine the efforts of teenage athletes or diminish your own personal aspirations for your kid’s sport career, but it is vital to remember that, as of 2018, only 6% of student athletes in all sports get the opportunity to make the transition from high school to college sports and only 2% of collegiate athletes become professional athletes.
These facts are a welcome alarm notification; teenage athletes should strive to perfect their craft and succeed in sports long term, but at the same time they should focus on their academic work as well. Even for those who do actually become NCAA student-athletes, it is vital to understand the importance of a dual career (sports and academics). This is your chance as parents, to get a head start.
It is perfectly acceptable for you and your children to have sporting aspirations and dreams of professional sport careers. It’s even noble, to say the least, to make a joint investment towards that. But you should remember that education is a key component for young adults and a necessary tool for life after sports. It is important because it creates knowledge, skills and competencies, it builds character. Even if sports can provide for your child, education is key to sustain and maximize the benefits from a short-lived sport career, so that the benefits can last a life time.
Taking the time to discuss this with your children is very important. Understanding that college and professional sport careers are a long shot, together with them you should aim at a joint decision that academics are equally important and useful. Without minimizing their dreams, young athletes should take time to digest and appreciate the importance of a dual career, especially at the high school and college level, in order to make sure that they do have options later on down the road.
Combining the two will never be an easy task. Hard work, dedication, determination are all important characteristics that a teenager must develop. At the same time, the support network around the athlete and especially the parents should help the athlete with time-management, encouragement and motivation. Compiling a daily schedule to incorporate practice and studying is the basis of a functional coexistence between sports and academics. Lightening the load of chores or extra-curricular activities is also a sound choice. Remember that young athletes have to cope with various stressors and pressure coming from teachers, coaches, peers, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends. Parents should strive to become a pillar of support and a boundary to a balanced life, as we will discuss later on.
Encourage your children to adopt their sport-specific traits into their academic life. Hard work, focus, success orientation, good teamwork, respect for the task at hand and the “players” in this task. Children can relate to these characteristics and can transfer them into their daily regiment in school, when doing homework, and in all aspects of their social life as well. It would be ill advised to create a competition between sports and academics or relate the academic performance to the continuation of sport activities. It would also be recommended to avoid comparisons with siblings or other children, teammates or not. The message should be clear, to the extent that that your child should strive to be the best he/she can be; the student-athlete should be better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today, on and off the field of play!