PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 162 | How Do I Help My Child Maximize Their Athletic Potential?

How can I help my child improve as an athlete with so little spare time?

Show Notes:

In this week's episode, I offer advice to parents who are trying to give their children the best opportunity to use sports as a hook to get into their first-choice colleges.

  • Is there anything I can do besides support them financially?
  • How does my child separate themselves from the competition?
  • When should my child decide whether or not "sports" will be their thing?
  • What's at stake?

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. and happy New Year, everybody. In today's episode, I want to discuss how you can help your child improve as an athlete in their sport, especially if they intend to use sports as their primary hook in the college admissions process. As I've discussed many times before, becoming a legitimately recruited athlete is a tough path to take, but it can give you a lot of leverage when it comes to college admissions, especially these days. So if you have a child in sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth grade who plans to pursue their sport as a way to get into one of their top choice colleges, whether Division one, two or three. Full scholarship. Partial scholarship, no scholarship. I hope this episode will help. Now, I've been through and I'm currently going through this process with my own sons and with many students with whom I work with privately. And for context, I have four sons, two older sons, both sophomores at Yale (one is a heavyweight rower and the other plays club water polo) who were four sport varsity athletes in high school who chose not to pursue the quote unquote, recruited athlete path. I also have a son who is a senior in high school right now who did pursue the recruited athlete path with a lot of success. He's slated to play water polo for the Naval Academy next year.

[00:01:56] And I have an eighth grade son who's trying to figure out what his path will be. And it's that eighth grader, along with a few other private students who inspired today's episode. My eighth grader, of course, has had a front row seat to his brother's experiences over the last few years, and he's trying to forge his own path. So at the beginning of the year, he and I sat down and had a heart to heart about what he thinks he wants to do. The most relevant and intimidating question is do you want to pursue the recruited athlete path or go in a different direction? Because as I've said many times in this podcast, the recruited athlete path is high risk, high reward. If you can thread the needle and a lot of good things happen to you over a 4 to 5 year period and you can avoid some of the big pitfalls like injury not being good enough or big enough. And you can swing it financially and get your academics right. Then you can find yourself in the driver's seat. My son, who was a senior, was successful in this process and in the end he was deciding from among the Naval Academy, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and UCLA. That's not a bad list of schools to choose from. However, this is not the norm. This is not easy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of challenges along the way that make this very difficult to pull off. The reason I had this discussion with my eighth grader was not to pressure him per se, but to gauge how serious he was about the process and to make sure we had enough time to set things in motion if he decided he wanted to go for it.

[00:03:45] Because if he wanted to become a recruited athlete. We needed to put a lot of things in motion right away and I mean a lot of things. This was not going to happen on its own. This was not going to happen by accident or by chance. If this was to happen at all, it would be because we set out a very strategic and intentional plan to get there. And of course, this is one of the reasons I started PrepWell Academy with a plan specifically for athletes that starts in ninth grade because the wheels need to be set in motion. Now, just because I started this process with my son in eighth grade doesn't necessarily mean that you should do the same with your child. You may or may not. You may need to start earlier or later. Or right now, it depends on a lot of different factors. There's nothing magical about eighth grade. The timing of this decision can vary quite a bit. Ironically, my senior son didn't quote unquote, decide he wanted to pursue water polo exclusively until sophomore year in high school. Again, he's a very unusual case and made the decision very late in the process for a typical athlete, especially in a water sport. And he had to do almost everything right to get where he landed. Once again, high risk, high reward. The time that your child should decide what they want to do, go forward or not will vary based on whether they are a boy or a girl, what sport they play, how talented they are, their experience, coaches feedback, their body type, how aligned their body type is with their sport, time, availability, financial resources, motivation and many other factors. I would say that in general the decision should be made at the latest by sometime in ninth grade.

[00:05:42] Again, this is not an ironclad rule. And if you want to discuss the particulars about your child and their specific progression, let's set up a time to talk and we'll go through the details. I just wanted to make sure that this conversation and this decision point is on your radar sooner rather than later. The reason I picked the beginning of eighth grade with my youngest son to make the decision is because I knew he would need a lot of work to make it happen. A lot of work. This was obviously not my first rodeo. I've seen coached, mentored, advised and lived with many student athletes who've gone through or are going through this process in all kinds of sports. If my youngest son's goal was to become a recruited athlete and I waited until even ninth grade or 10th grade to put the machine in motion for him, he would have missed his window. I don't think he'd have a chance. That's the truth. That's not a rub on him, it's just the way things are. And by the way, even now, starting the machinery in eighth grade and with a subject matter expert living in the same house, the odds are still stacked against him. He still has a small chance of making it through, but at least he'll have a shot. Again, I'm not suggesting this timeline holds for your child. It's very child and very family specific. My point here is that you need to assess your child as an athlete, a competitor, a student. What is their work ethic like? How mature are they? How into their sport are they? Do they have other competing interests? What is his or her alternative? And generally speaking, does your son or daughter project well? Meaning, If mostly everything goes well, does he or she have a legitimate shot to become a recruit athlete? That's an important decision that needs to be made sooner rather than later, in most cases.

[00:07:41] Well, once your child makes that fateful decision in this case to become a recruited athlete, what happens next? How do you help your child get to where they want to go? This is what I'd like to talk about in today's episode. And my guess is that if you're still listening by now, it probably means that your child is an athlete, an athlete that may have potential to play in college. And it likely also means that you're already doing way more than you ever imagined that you'd be doing for any single activity. The practices, the games, the tournaments, the travel, the hotels, the uniform, the gears, the club fees, the tournament fees, the camps, the clinics. And the list goes on and on. You might be thinking, Phil, What do you mean? How do I help my child and prove I'm already doing way more than I would have imagined? My child's schedule is already maxed out. There's nothing more we can do. We're at our limit. And I understand this sentiment. I've lived through it. I'm living through it. And it may be true, but I'm here today to challenge this notion. Because at first blush, if you didn't know any better, you may think that your child and you are maxed out. After all, your child has practice five days a week, weightlifting sessions two or three days a week. They may even be on a few different club teams at the same time. What more can be done to help them improve? This is the question. And I will admit there aren't that many children of families who are willing to consider what I'm about to propose.

[00:09:17] And that's okay. I don't hold it against anyone, family or athlete who doesn't want to go this far or who doesn't have the time or the energy, the know how, the resources to go there. But I also know that there are some athletes that do and some families that do. And for some athletes, the stakes are pretty high and the window of opportunity is actually pretty short. Let me explain. Let's say you have an eighth or ninth grader, so a 14 or a 15 year old, and they've been involved in Sport X for four or five years and they've excelled and they're on the best club teams. They make the All-Star team. They're regularly the team or the tournament MVP, and they love it and they show a lot of promise. In fact, you've heard from reputable sources that they show so much promise that if things really go their way, there's a chance that they could get, for example, a full athletic scholarship to college or admission to a service academy or to a lottery school like Harvard or Yale or Stanford as a recruited athlete. Now, assuming that your eighth or ninth grader is interested in these options. This situation presents an extremely rare opportunity. And depending on your child's demographic profile opportunities, that would be impossible otherwise. A full athletic scholarship to college could save the student and their family hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, room and board. And the chance to attend a Harvard or Yale or Stanford could be valued at 10 to 20 times that amount or more. My point here is that these opportunities don't come around all that often in life. And to think that a concerted effort with a lot of forethought and intention for 18 months could be the difference between going to Stanford or a local junior college, or the difference between paying $0 and $300,000 for college is mind boggling and a reality that should not be taken lightly.

[00:11:38] And if you haven't thought through how significant this opportunity might be and what the alternatives might be if it doesn't quite work out, then you may be tempted to stick with the status quo. After all, your child is working hard. They're busy. They're going to the best tournaments and camps. They're doing what all the best kids are doing. And therein lies the rub. They're doing what everybody else is doing. If they're going to the same practices, lifting the same weights and playing in the same tournaments, where is the separation happening? How is your child getting better than the other players? How will they ever stand out? How do they get on the coaches recruiting list? And remember, the window to make this happen is very short. Again, we could be talking nine months, 12 months, 18 months. The commitment is months, not decades, But the payoff, if you get it right, could last a lifetime. Is a little extra effort for 9 to 12 months worth it? The truth is, if there isn't an intervention of some kind, there will likely be no separation. They won't get materially better than other players. They won't stand out. They'll end their career as outstanding high school players. Or they'll go to less desirable colleges and maybe play their sport for a year or two until they flame out. And that'll be that. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It happens 95 plus percent of the time. But there will be a few athletes and families who are paying attention to what's going on, who do want to get to the next level, and they'll come up with a 9, 12, 18 month plan and they will separate themselves. They will be special. They will stand out. And those athletes will seize those opportunities.

[00:13:43] So the question is, how do I help my child separate themselves from the other outstanding players, rowers, runners, swimmers? Let me give you two practical examples. Example, number one. Female rower, 16 years old. Relatively little experience with rowing compared to others, but high potential. Excellent academics. Supportive family. Target school: Stanford. When it comes to rowing, just like track and swimming, your time in a particular event is one of the biggest factors in recruiting. What is your time in the 400 meter hurdles in track, for example, or the 200 yard butterfly in swimming? Well, in rowing, they want to know your what's called two K time. That's how quickly you can row 2000 meters on an ERG machine. That's the magic number when it comes to recruiting rowers. So in this example, this particular girl had a respectable two K time, let's call it a 7 minutes and 55 seconds. 755. Not special, but not bad, especially for how much of a novice she was. But Stanford is really looking for girls who can pull in the seven twenties, for example, versus the seven fifties. So we're talking about a 32nd drop. Now, for people who aren't familiar with rowing and how difficult it can be to improve your two K time, dropping 30 seconds is a big ask. Not impossible, but a big ask. And we're talking about doing this over the course of 8 to 10 months. Now this girl can keep doing what she's doing and row with the team and lift with the team and do what all the other girls are doing and improve about as much as every other girl improves. And if this is the plan, she will likely not get down to the seven twenties and Stanford will likely be off the table.

[00:15:52] It wouldn't be impossible, but it would be highly unlikely, however. What if she hired a private rowing coach for six months and augmented her dry land to training and cross-trained and upgraded her nutrition and got 10 hours of sleep a night and hydrated more and began a visualization regimen and essentially turn the dial up for 6 to 9 months to put herself in the best possible position. Could she get that? Took time down to a 720 something, probably. Again, there's no guarantee. But if she sticks with the status quo, it's almost a given that it won't happen. So the question comes down to does this girl want to go to Stanford enough to really crank up the intensity for 6 to 9 months? Yes or no? It's really that simple. Now, of course, some of these ideas that I'm proposing cost money like a private coach. So that's something to consider. But I'm just throwing everything out there. If you really wanted to go for it. What would you be willing to do? If it comes down to an opportunity to go to Stanford or Fresno State. Maybe you're willing to put yourself out there for 6 to 9 months. Let's move on to example. Number two, a male water polo player, eighth grader, 13 years old, new to the sport, playing on the local club team, which is fairly competitive in the region. Pretty good skills for a novice, but not blowing anyone away by any means. A recent injury that kept him out of the water for three months strong academics. Target. Schools. Naval Academy. Princeton. Harvard. Pepperdine. Now, unlike rowing, track and swimming, water polo does not have a specific timed metric to catch the eye of a college recruiter. Like many other team sports, there are a lot of variables at play.

[00:18:05] What team do you play on? How good is the team? What type of competition do you play against? What position do you play? What's your body type? What's your handedness and your IQ? So it's tougher to know how good you really are or how good you project to be. Now there are signs, to be sure, but teenagers grow and mature at such different rates that there's a lot of shifting going on and there are a lot of intangibles. There is no published reference, time or measure to compare yourself to your peers. So he's got his work cut out for him, especially given the lottery type schools he's thinking about. So what do you think would happen if this athlete did what every other athlete his age was doing? Go to club, practice five times a week, lift weights with the teams twice a week, go to a few clinics, try out for a few regional super teams, go to a camp or two. Well, we don't know what would happen yet, but it probably wouldn't be all that special. Why? Because that's what every other kid is doing. Again. Where is the separation? Where does he make the big leap? How and when does he rise out of the sea of sameness? The answer is: Slowly but surely. Because there's not a lot of time to do extra stuff. Above and beyond what his peers are doing. Their schedules are pretty packed as it is, as we talked about earlier. Where do you find those small or larger pockets of time to get ahead? I'm glad you asked. How about school vacations? This particular student just had two weeks off from school over the Christmas and New Year's break. With no official water polo practice, no scheduled weightlifting workouts, nothing for two weeks, free and clear.

[00:20:07] Now, what did most of his peers do during this holiday break? Well, according to him, most not all. Most of them played video games, swiped on their phones and watch Netflix. Not that there's anything wrong with that. My point is, if he did what everyone else was doing, his improvement trajectory would be the same as theirs. It would go backwards for two weeks. This is not the path that a motivated athlete takes, especially an athlete who has a long way to go. So this athlete who you may have deduced by now is my eighth grade son, and I set up a comprehensive 15 day training plan over the holiday break. It consisted of getting in the pool every day. Except for Christmas and New Year's, where the pool was closed. Get in the pool and do a tough swim set for 40 minutes and a challenging and progressively harder leg set for 10 minutes and throwing the ball for ten or 15 minutes. That was in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we lifted weights every day in our home gym. Day one chest tries, shoulders, day two legs and core. Day three back buys forearms. Day four, full body calisthenics. And then we repeat the cycle. We would run Cowles Mountain, which is an 1800 foot peak. Sometimes with wait this run five k's do sprints at the local track, play pickleball, play basketball, anything to get outside and get the body moving. Now you may be thinking, but Phil, it's only 15 days. Will that really make a difference? And my answer is, if it becomes a habit during the holiday downtimes, then yes, especially at the ages of 13, 14, 15, and especially with boys. The human body is desperate to be challenged physically and if challenged in unconventional ways, the bodies of 13, 14, 15, 16 year olds can transform.

[00:22:19] The progress can be immense, even in short bursts. It's not the same as a 50 year old working out for 15 days. The progress for a 50 year old would be much slower and far less significant, unfortunately. But for a teenager, challenging, the body can have profound impact. And couple this with a smart eating plan. Plenty of sleep and resting on the couch for two weeks. And I believe separation has taken place at least a little bit. And of course, confidence is high when everyone gets back in the pool from holiday break because he's been hitting it hard and most of the other kids are now out of shape. And sometimes that confidence can go a long way. Now, unfortunately, these two week windows are few and far between, but if you're diligent, you can take advantage of them. They do add up over the course of a few years. And of course, the summer is where the massive transformations can happen because of all the time available. But for someone like my son, who needs a lot of work to get where he wants to go and started kind of late, he doesn't have the luxury of waiting until the summer. He needs to get better, like right now. And what he can control right now is how he challenges his body. He can't necessarily improve his game IQ or his in-game experience above and beyond what he'll get in the standard team practices. But he can work on his body. 24 seven 365 and that's what I'm trying to help him do. And I know we've gotten really into the weeds on the athletic front today, but the principle holds true across many dimensions of college admissions. One obvious example is the SAT and ACT.

[00:24:07] Since the SAT and ACT is such a significant factor in admissions these days, despite the enduring test optional policies, wouldn't it behoove most students to really buckle down for six, nine, 12 months preparing for one of these tests, given that their choice of colleges will be so dependent on how well they do on the test? Again, if your child sticks to the status quo and does what every other student is doing, they will likely end up with status quo results. This again, is the point of PrepWell Academy. This program is not for status quo students. It's for students and families who believe that there are things that they can do over the course of 2 to 3 very important transitional years that will set their kids up for success in the future. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. Have a very happy 2023. And in case you didn't know, this podcast supports PrepWell Academy's online mentoring program, which I've mentioned a few times, where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in PrepWell Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or a sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you'd like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child, for their specific grade and with their specific goals in mind.

[00:25:58] Go to and enroll today. If you know a parent with a middle schooler or high schooler that might find this helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a wider audience. If you have questions, comments, or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. Demi on Instagram. Check out our blog Facebook page, or connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd love to hear from you. Until next week, Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by PrepWell Academy. PrepWell Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to and enroll your child today.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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