1) Understand your bias
It’s not a shock that parents often think their child is the next Michael Jordan or Misty May Trainer. You’re biased and you can’t help it. That’s alright. One of the hardest things for high school coaches, trainers, and especially parents to do is convey to an athlete that they aren’t high major, Division I material. Oftentimes, they first have to start by understanding it themselves that their athlete isn’t meant for that level of play. Now, if your athlete truly does have what it takes to compete at that top 1% then that’s fantastic. Keep pushing them to excel even further. However, if you’re dealing with the other 99% of college athletes, you need to recognize that not everyone is meant for or capable of operating at that high skill level.
There are countless stories out there of athletes that start at the Division III level and make it to the pros or begin their collegiate careers at a JUCO and end up at a high major program. In order to be the best support system for your son/daughter, you need to understand your inherent bias during the recruiting process. To be as supportive as possible, you must accept your child’s level of play in addition to helping him/her come to terms with it. Again, it’s a difficult process, but it makes the next steps in your child’s career much smoother and creates a more driven, less complacent individual in their future.
2) Good grades and extracurriculars go a long way
One of the best things a parent can do for their young athlete is to help them understand the importance of having the best GPA possible. Having a high GPA not only conveys to a college coach that your son or daughter is a driven, hard working individual, but it also shows them that they won’t have to allocate a lot of their time to deal with classroom issues during their college years. It should be obvious that receiving emails from professors about a student skipping class or coming close to failing isn’t something a college coach likes or wants to deal with.
Additionally, at the D-II and D-III level, student-athletes with higher GPAs can use the connections and leverage that a college coach has within the school to apply for more merit-based scholarships and federal work study positions that may otherwise be unknown to a general student applicant.
Now, if your child is one of those athletes that has trouble maintaining a high GPA there are other ways that you can help them stand out to college coaches. Are they active in any clubs? Do they work outside of school? Find ways for them to demonstrate to college coaches that they are hard working individuals who are willing to put in the work required to succeed in and out of the classroom.
3) Do your own research on schools
Your son or daughter is likely extremely excited about the opportunity to play sports in college. When they begin to explore their options for school, you might notice they pay a lot of attention to the school’s athletic facilities, jerseys, players on the team, and the number of fans in attendance at each game. So, one of the most important things a parent of a future collegiate athlete can do is to make sure they understand more about the school than just the sport they intend to play and the perks that come with it.
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was from my mother. She asked me once on a recruiting visit, “Will you like this school even if you have a career ending injury.” Now, as gruesome a question as that is, it really made me think more about what the school offered me other than the sport itself – the programs to study, the social life, the relationships with professors, the future career opportunities. I suggest that you ask your student-athlete a similar question on their visits to see how they react.
It is your job as a parent to make sure that your son or daughter is happy, safe, and healthy at the school that they choose. The best way to make sure this happens is to give them all the information they may need. Research what the campus looks like, think about the city or town the school is located in and if your child would enjoy the environment, do research on the major(s) your child is interested in at the school, and try to visit the campus. If possible, set up a recruiting visit with the coaches and ask good questions (look out for a future blog post with more details about the best questions to ask on a recruiting visit.) Be proactive so that their decision about where to commit becomes easier.
The recruiting process is wrought with mental fatigue, difficult choices, and an often challenging final decision. It is a necessary time for constant communication with your child to make sure that they know what to do and how to do it. If you have prepared them for this time in their life by recognizing your inherent bias (and theirs), pushed them to be driven individuals, and given them all the information they may need to make an informed decision about where to go, then you have done a phenomenal job. Congratulations and enjoy the process!