Setting Expectations–A College Scholarship

Come Ready or Never Start

Setting Expectations…That College Scholarship


When most parents push their children to get involved in organized athletics they have the noblest of intentions, thinking that participation will be fun for the child and provide valuable life lessons.  But you know in the back of their mind many parents hold out a small sliver of hope that through sports, their child can help pay for college through some sort of athletic scholarship. 


Especially when the young athlete shows some aptitude in the sport and continues his or her participation past the early stages and into the more competitive travel team and interscholastic arenas, the ultimate expectation for the parent and the child may be a college athletic scholarship. 


It’s only natural, isn’t it?  Given the astronomical costs of higher education these days, a scholarship can financially help a family tremendously.  For some, it may mean the difference between attending college or not.  It may be a high expectation, but there is nothing wrong with it as long as the parent and the child both agree with that expectation. 


Just how possible are these expectations?  According to NCAA statistics:

  • The odds of a high school boys basketball player earning some sort of  scholarship to play in college are 1 in 35. 
  • The odds of a high school girls basketball player earning some sort of scholarship to play in college are 1 in 34.
  • The odds of a high school football player earning some sort of scholarship to play in college are in 17.


The first big challenge if your son or daughter is one of those natural athletes who may be scholarship material in the future is to motivate them to practice and get better.  It’s just like the child who doesn’t have to study and still gets A’s in school.  Maybe they don’t have to study now, but the parent has to emphasize that at some point they will have to study to compete with other kids from other areas who may be trying to get into the same elite colleges.  If the expectation of the parent and child is to earn an athletic scholarship, that child has to be convinced at the earliest possible age that they cannot rely on natural abilities—they have to work to get better.  There are just too many natural athletes out there.


An expectation of a college scholarship means the young athlete needs to be constantly challenged with the goals of maximizing their abilities and promoting their mentality to want to excel.  Parents need to set that expectation, “…you’re going to be challenged…”

You set higher expectations and have your child agree to them.  You do not demand, but be suggestive as they experience success with competitive sports,  “Johnny/Jennifer…Is this something you may want to continue in high school and maybe earn a scholarship to play in college?”


If the expectation is earning a college scholarship, the goal for the young athlete is to have them peak in 11th and 12th grades.  When getting started on that pathway, that means thinking 3 or 4 years down the road.  Skill development goals have to be long term and considered more important than short-term goals or disappointments.  And there will be disappointments along the way.  (Just ask Michael Jordan who was cut from his ninth grade team.)  But these temporary setbacks can be seen in the broader context giving the athlete and parent an indication of where improvement is imperative if their scholarship expectations are to be met. 


The best identification of whether the college scholarship expectation is a realistic one probably starts in 9th grade.  Parents and children must have the same expectations, driven by being more suggestive than demanding,  “Johnny/Jennifer…would you like to improve enough in the next few years to give yourself a chance at a scholarship?”


If so, the child has to realize:

·        He or she must put a lot more time into skill acquisition and mastery than the normal child

·        They must realize that the more they are challenged, the better they will become

·        They must be told to look at the big picture and not get too down or too up with small failures or successes along the way


Parents do need to make sure their youngsters have the opportunity to complete and play against teams and players from other areas.  It doesn’t mean much if they are one of the best in your area.  You will get a better evaluation and feedback about their college scholarship potential when you watch them playing against the best kids from other communities. 


But let’s me frank.  The odds show us that there are many expectations of athletic scholarships for young athletes that are not coming to fruition.  If the scholarship expectation is not met after their senior season, there are alternatives to the child’s desire to participate in college depending on the intensity of the interest by the child and parent.  These are some alternative pathways:

·        Prep School

·        Junior College

·        Going Division III

·        Walking-on

(I had my heart set on playing major Division I basketball so I turned down scholarship offers from minor D1 schools to walk on to the University of Pittsburgh.  And I worked my butt off to earn a scholarship.)


An expectation of a college scholarship is a challenging one.  Both the parent and child must be aware of the hard work and sacrifice needed to fulfill that dream and can work together to chart a pathway to give the young athlete the best chance of fulfilling that expectation.





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