Prior to becoming an NCAA Division I rehab coordinator and strength coach, I spent 5 1/2 years coaching youth athletes at a private performance and rehab facility. It was a great gig for my first job, but ultimately wasn’t my dream job. I learned a ton in those 5 years about training the human body, working in the real world, and interacting with people (customers).
One thing that still sticks with me from that experience is what oftentimes ended up as a rather negative interaction with parents. I found myself constantly stuck in the middle of being happy about over zealous parents who were willing to pay large sums of money to work with their kids, because it basically paid my salary and kept the lights on, contrasted with my desire to tell parents to back off and let their kids be kids.
We had countless parents beg us to perform strength training with their 10 year olds and parents of high school athletes who basically expected us to over train their son or daughter by working with them multiple times per week in addition to their school training sessions and club practices. At the end of my tenure, I really left with a sour taste in my mouth with regards to the youth sports movement.
Youth sports is supposed to be about having fun, learning fundamentals of athletic movements, learning to compete, and ultimately experiencing skills and situations that will make us better humans later in life (i.e. leadership, working within a team, work ethic, etc). Now, youth sports is about winning, competing on a U6 travel team, getting private lessons, and specializing in 1 sport at a very early age.
To be the next Lebron, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Judge (man he crushed the ball in the home run derby last night!). Don’t get me wrong, not all parents and coaches are like this, but there are way too many kids that are being thrust into sporting events and situations that they aren’t prepared for. And the justification is to get a college scholarship, or better yet, go pro. But, what are the odds that you child will be a superstar? Keep reading, there are some really interesting stats coming.
I’m now a parent of 4 young kids (ages 10, 9, 6 and 3), so I’m seeing this with my children and their friends. There is pressure to “keep up with the Jones'” and try out for a better team, or work with a private coach.
I’m not comfortable with it and I’m not going to do it…at least night right now.
I will say that there is a fine line between providing opportunities for your children succeed in the things that they love to do and pushing them into something because it is the parent’s dream. As parents, we all get it wrong sometimes, but in this situation, I don’t think that you can ever go wrong with backing off and letting your child simply have fun with sports.
Recently, I came across the latest college participation statistics and it really drives home the fact that very, very few young athletes will ever go on to compete at the college level. Read the full article here, especially if you are a numbers guy like me.
What sticks out?
First of all, the fact that only about 2% of all high school athletes go on to compete at the NCAA Division 1 level. One thing to keep in mind here is that I used the word “compete”. I said nothing about scholarships. These stats are only about participation, not money given out.
Depending on the sport and whether or not a college or university fully funds it’s programs, it is likely that a majority of those 2% are getting very little to no money to play. With the exception of football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, the rest of the sports listed at the Division 1 level can split their scholarships up, so those coaches only have a limited amount of scholarship money to be divided by the team.
For example, at the institution where I work, our men’s swimming and diving program carries about 25 men on their roster (give or take). But, they only have 9 full scholarships to give out. Our coach can choose to give 9 men full scholarships, or to divide that money up amongst the 25 swimmers. It is his choice. My point is, if you expect to get a full ride scholarship for your kid as a swimmer, it is going to be much more difficult than even these numbers will indicate.
It is also interesting that only 3-4% of athletes compete at the NCAA Division 1 and 2 levels when you combine those stats. The reason that is interesting is because NCAA Division 3 athletes can’t receive athletic scholarships at all and Division 2 programs have less money than Division 1 does. The NAIA and Junior College route is an option for some, and most of those programs do offer some financial assistance for some of their athletes, but those levels of college sports are a bit like the wild west, with much less regulation. So, if you’re looking for money for school, you need to be at the tops of either the Division 1 or 2 levels to have a legitimate opportunity for any real compensation for playing.
It’s also telling that the odds of a high school senior men’s basketball player playing pro ball are 1860 to 1. That’s pretty low. And, what’s even lower is the number of kids who play youth sports who never end up even playing as high school seniors. So the odds of little “Johnny” going pro are much lower than 1860 to 1.
That leads me to a few other points that I think are telling facts about sports in the US. I will apologize that I’m going to quote a few stats without citing the resources, but it is late and I don’t have time to find them right now, but these numbers are fairly accurate and I hope you take them more as food for thought conceptually than as hard facts.
- Only about 1 in 4 football players who start their college career actually finish their eligibility. Seventy five percent quit playing early for one reason or another.
- About 70% of youth who play sports early on and quit prior to high school cite parental pressure being too much as their main motivation not wanting to play high school sports.
- The odds of a youth athlete sustaining a significant injury during their sport is drastically higher for children who play a single sport 9 or more months out of the year (according to the Andrew’s Research and Education Institute).
- A huge percentage of the players selected in the NFL draft played multiple sports in high school.
What should we draw from all of these stats about college athletics?
- Youth sports are great! They can have a huge impact on children and create awesome memories…when they are approached with the right attitude by everyone involved.
- Don’t specialize early on. Children will be better at whatever they choose to specialize in down the road if you help them become great all around athletes at a young age. They will also avoid injuries and learn to think critically in different situations because every sport presents it’s own mental challenges to succeed.
- Don’t get mad or frustrated if you kid’s teammate isn’t very good and “loses the game.” That child will never be the next Lebron, but they are learning valuable life lessons from the game. And, guess what…according to these numbers, your kid won’t be the next Lebron either. Also, as adults, we have to deal with a lot of people who aren’t very good at what they do, so you might as well teach your child how to deal with it now.
- Use youth sports to teach life skills and lessons. The things I learned from 15+ years of competing as a kid, in high school and college are invaluable to my success in life now. That is what we should be focusing on.
- Make sure kids are having a blast while they play!