PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 223 | Sports: Double-down Or Diversify?

High school sports: Should your child double-down or diversify?

In this week's podcast, I discuss whether it makes sense for your child to double-down on sports, or diversify into other areas of interest.

There will come a point in time when your child has to answer this fateful question:

"Am I committed to becoming a recruited college athlete or not?"

Listen to this week's episode to learn when this decision should be made, what happens if it's not, and what should they do if the answer is "no."

Show Transcript:

Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. Today we are talking about sports, and when it's time for your child to double down on their sport or diversify away from their sport. And to put a finer point on this. I'm talking specifically about students who were, let's call it, above average athletes in middle school who were pretty serious about their sport.

They probably started very young. They've been a standout. They make all star teams. They're playing on club teams. They're playing year round. They're traveling to tournaments. They expect to play their sport in high school at the varsity level pretty early in high school. And most would even claim, if asked, that they intend to play their sport in college.

I'm sure you can all picture the type of student I'm talking about. Many of you live with one of these creatures, and I've had this very same conversation with at least four families this week, probably three families last week. So it seems to continue to be an issue for a lot of families. Now, if your child doesn't play sports per se, I would still urge you to listen to this episode, because a lot of the principles that I'm talking about will apply to students who are very involved in band or theater or some other activity that takes up a lot of their time and attention.

There are a ton of overlaps. First off, we all know that youth sports can bring a lot of joy and life lessons and overall wellness to our children's lives. They make great friends. They learn about winning and losing and what it's like to compete. And I would say the goodness doesn't stop with our children. Parents, including myself, often get super involved in youth sports to the point where a lot of our social life revolves around the weekend tournaments, the travel, the games, and the socializing with other parents.

I'm not disputing any of that. I've been through all of this and then some. I'm here for it. However, there will come a point where, in my opinion, a major decision needs to be made, namely as your child moves into high school. Does it make sense for them to stay committed to their sport at the expense of almost everything else?

That is the question. As your child enters high school, are they doubling down on their sport or are they diversifying away from it? Let's start with the case for doubling down. As you well know by now, getting into selective colleges these days is a tricky proposition, even for the smartest and most squared away students out there. I won't go through all of the reasons.

I've spent many episodes detailing all these reasons, many of them not good. What I can say is that sports can help out in this regard in a big way. For some demographics, it could be the only way, because if your child turns out to be a recruited athlete at any level. Division one two. Division three. Full scholarship. Partial scholarship, no scholarship.

It can help them get admitted to college. Even the most highly selective colleges out there. Sounds great, right? Who wouldn't love a significant advantage in the college admissions process, especially if you're a Caucasian male? Everybody would love to have this advantage. It's the golden ticket. However, let's not lose sight of the operative term in what I just said to benefit from this strategy.

Your child has to turn out to be a recruited athlete. This is key. If your child becomes a recruited athlete and uses that status as leverage to get into one of their top choice colleges, you have essentially won the lottery. Whether or not there's any scholarship money attached to it these days, just getting into a good college is practically an act of God.

Any financial help after that is just gravy. This dynamic is becoming so widely understood and acted upon that it's becoming harder and harder to become a recruited athlete because so many students and families are betting their lives on the strategy with good reason in a lot of cases. So what's a parent to do? Step one before freshman year.

Sophomore year at the very latest, check in with your child and try to figure out what they're thinking with respect to sports and college and recruitment and admissions. Good luck with that. By the way. Do they intend to use sports as a lever to help them get into college? Do they even know what that means? I know this is a hard question to ask, and I do it all the time to kids on zoom calls with their parents flanking them left and right.

It can be very awkward because I sometimes put them on the spot. I ask them to say out loud what their intentions are. I ask them point blank, do you want to play your sport in college at the Division one level? And sometimes I get blank stares because it's never been formally asked of them so directly. That's not a particularly easy question for a 15 or 16 year old, especially if they haven't thought about it that much.

But it is the question they need to think about and they need to answer at some point. Why? Because if they don't and they just keep doing what they've been doing, which is spending 80% of their time on their sport, but without a plan, without a goal, without intention, they will most likely end up an above average high school player who fades into obscurity by the middle or end of their junior year, and their college prospects will be nil.

This is what happens to 9,597% of high school athletes, even very good athletes. And I know that may sound harsh, but it's the reality. If your child wants to use sports as a lever to get into college. In other words, they want to become a recruited athlete in their sport. They need to say it out loud. They need to appreciate what that means, what the risks are, and what it will realistically take to become a recruited athlete in their sport.

And obviously, the particulars of this will vary widely based on the student's raw talent, their age, their metrics, the sport that they play, what position they play, the popularity of the sport, and a host of other issues. All of these things have to be taken into account and thought about and stress test and debated. These questions don't answer themselves.

They need to be worked on. And this is where I try to help a lot of families thinking through how realistic their aspirations are and if they're realistic, what do they need to do to maximize their chances? Most athletes don't just look into becoming recruited athletes, especially these days. And for the students out there who are thinking, well, I'd like to go D1, but if that doesn't work out, I guess I'll just go D3.

That'll be much easier. That is no longer the case. That may have been the case 20 or 30 years ago. Not anymore. Playing a high level Division three sport in many cases is almost as competitive as playing a Division one sport. Why? Because there are so many more talented athletes out there now than there are spots available on D1 rosters that the D3 teams are soaking up everyone who didn't quite make a D1 or a D2 roster.

And there will be lots of them who don't make that cut, and they will be looking for a home, and many of them would love to go to a Division three school with great academics in a quaint college town that they wouldn't otherwise get into without sports. So it's very competitive across the board D1, D2, D3. In fact, in my experience, there's very little difference between what a student with D1 aspirations will do compared to a student with D3 aspirations.

They'll both be grinding, they'll both be pushing, and they'll both need highlight videos and campaigns sent out to coaches. They'll need to go to showcase. It's the whole nine yards, and some students will make the leap and get to Division one level. Others will be close and find a home at a Division three school, and unfortunately, most will not get recruited at all.

What you are trying to do is avoid that last scenario of not getting recruited at all. If that was a goal, that's the scenario where your child thinks that they're on the path to becoming a recruited athlete, but they have no idea what that means. In reality, they've never had this talk. They've never gotten a reality check. They've never had someone like me challenge them on a zoom call.

They've never put a plan together. They just keep doing what they've been doing, albeit successfully, since fifth grade, and they assume that they will magically turn into a recruited athlete. They literally will sit by the phone waiting for it to ring when the recruiting window opens. Waiting to hear from all the coaches and the phone never rings. And then they find themselves at the end of their junior year.

They haven't heard from any coaches D1, D2, D3 and they start to have an identity crisis because they start to fill out their common application, and they see that there are ten spots for extracurricular activities, but the only activity they have to fill in is their sport. Varsity lacrosse three years, club lacrosse three years. And that's it. They leave the next eight spots blank.

oh. That could be a problem. And it's tough to blame them because sports these days are a 20 473 65 affair. There's very little time to do anything else. I get it. I'm living it right now with a high school freshman. Think about it this way. How do you think that that students extracurricular activities list of which they have two entries, lacrosse and lacrosse will compare to a non-athletes extracurricular activities list.

Who has done speech and debate and mock trial and scouting and model UN and robotics club and internships. And they have summer jobs and international travel. And they played JV badminton. And they've been in the marching band and they've done a lot of volunteer work, and the list goes on and on and on. Here's my point. At some point you have to make a decision.

Double down or diversify. If your child wants to go for it, that is, they want to become a recruited athlete and they've had the conversation with you. Maybe they've met with me. They know the stakes and they're serious. And you've gotten several objective opinions from outside coaches who agree that this move is realistic. And importantly, they have a plan.

Then it's time to double down and pray for the best. Pray that it works out. Pray that there are no injuries. Pray that the potential turns into reality. Pray that they improve. Pray that their body cooperates. Pray that there's a program out there that's a good fit for them. This is a high risk, high reward proposition. If this is not the case and your child does not want to use sports as their ticket to college, and they don't want to be a recruited athlete, then maybe it's time to diversify.

And by that I mean maybe they should continue with their sport, but maybe back away from the travel team or the multiple club teams or the summer commitments. Maybe they should explore some other activities at school or after school, or in the workforce, or as a volunteer. Maybe they want to expand their horizons beyond their sport, so they have a better idea of what it's like to be a normal human.

And by the way, a more viable college applicant. Now, with all that said, you may be wondering, well, when is the cutoff? When do we need to make this fateful decision? As I said, it will vary based on several factors. Is it a son or a daughter? It depends on their sport. How good are they? How competitive is the sport?

How motivated is the child? Is there scholarship money or not? All of that stuff is going to get in the mix. But my rule of thumb is the cutoff date would be the beginning of sophomore year. By the beginning of sophomore year, I think it's reasonable to expect your child to make this decision with your help, of course, and with my help if you like.

Certainly it could be earlier, but it can't be very much later. What your child should be careful about is keeping their head in the sand, not confronting these questions, and just going along for a ride, assuming that everything's going to be hunky dory and ending up falling short and realizing that their commitment to their sport crowded out nearly everything else in their lives, and now their list with a pretty one dimensional life.

I've been through this process with hundreds of students, families, and of course, my own four sons. I've had both experiences with my four sons. My two oldest sons chose to diversify. They backed away from their singular focus on lacrosse as they entered high school, and instead made it their goal to play for varsity sports in high school, none of which they plan to play in college.

And they ended up having a great high school sports career playing water polo, basketball, swimming, and lacrosse. And they never had to sweat the whole recruiting process. They both ended up at Yale. One of them actually became a heavyweight varsity rower as a walk on, and the other played club water polo, which was super chill and fun and low key.

My two other sons, on the other hand, doubled down. My third son by his sophomore year in high school. Decided to double down on water polo, and he quickly became a highly recruited player who had to choose from among Stanford, UCLA, Harvard, Princeton and the Naval Academy, and he ended up choosing the Naval Academy. My fourth son, who was a freshman in high school right now, is also doubling down on water polo, and we'll see whether he can become a recruited athlete or not.

And at what level. That's a TBD. As with most things in life, there is risk. There is risk to doubling down. There is risk to diversifying. The risk that I would prefer your child not take is complacency or ignorance. I'd rather see them double down, go for it, risk it all, and never quite get to that recruited athlete status or diversify and try to make some other things happen as opposed to bobbing along, unengaged, uninformed, uninterested, with no plan.

In my opinion, that would be the biggest risk of all. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports Preble Academy's online mentoring program, where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, or I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC scholarships.

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