When young athletes talk about a career playing sports, they almost always look to the best and greatest teams. The teams or institutions that receive the most air-time and the highest rankings. They visualize themselves having a starting role on those teams. They fantasize about holding up the cup or wearing the ring. But the reality is, the chances of a high school athlete, getting recruited for a DI athletic scholarship is exceedingly low. The NCAA released new statistics in 2017 that breaks down the likelihood of making it to the D1 level for all major sports.  Bottom line – it doesn’t look good!

So what do you do when you have unrecruited kids who, even as late as senior year of high school, still see sports as their single professional career interest? Well first they have to get recruited to play sports in college, and that’s no small feet. No parent ever wants to be a “dream crusher”, but at some point, we need to speak in terms of numbers. What the numbers tell us is that it’s just not likely. I would never underestimate the drive of the kid that is truly willing to go for it, but the fact remains that though many young athletes may be very good, other factors may not align for them.

It’s a complex picture that involves:

  • Natural ability
  • A coach that is willing to stick his or her neck out for your child
  • Your kid’s work ethic
  • Their commitment to a better community outside of sports
  • Your child’s ability to fend off peer pressure
  • A clean and reputable social media profiles
  • The ability to target programs that need what they have
  • Good grades
  • The ability to network and make connections
  • Timing, Timing, and did I mention Timing?

That’s a long list, but it just scratches the surface of what it takes to make it in the world of athletics at the next level.

The NCAA statistics tell us 2.6% of high school football players will play at the DI level, with the numbers rising to 6.8% if they are willing to consider DII and DIII opportunities. For basketball, it looks even worse; with the chance of competing being only 3.4% across all divisions. Presumably, this has to do with basketball being a sport where genetics, i.e. height, rules out many young athletes once they stop growing, no matter how talented they are. Lacrosse has the highest percentage of kids making it to the college ranks at 12.3% but one of the lowest to compete at the DI level, at only 2.9%. This is most likely due to elite college lacrosse programs typically aligning with academically elite colleges and universities, such as Duke, Notre Dame and Yale.

What are your options, you may be wondering if you don’t see the DI scenario playing out for your child? The good news is there are quite a few if you and your high school athlete can keep an open mind. It really depends on where your child ultimately sees themselves ending up. Are they still looking to move into the professional sports arena or maybe have an eye on a doctorate degree after they graduate with their bachelor’s? These two end-goals certainly require a different strategy. Maybe they have no idea what they want to do or where they want to go, and that’s OK too. And let’s not forget the new redshirt season, where a year is spent at a community college prior to transferring to a bigger program.

The first thing we, as parents, need to do is speak openly to our kids about options because options are everything in life! And while I’m speaking in metaphors, the numbers don’t lie either! Break down the numbers with your child and try to get a beat on how much they are willing to sacrifice to achieve their “dreams”. Sometimes, when the sacrifice is stacked up against the dream it all becomes crystal clear. It’s easy to speak about high-level success but much more difficult to achieve it unless extreme sacrifices are willing to be made by your student athlete. Less sleep, less social time with friends, greater stress to maintain grades…it all comes into play. Speaking about it is one thing, but actually being willing to make the sacrifices is another altogether. And let’s face it, we all know our kids. We know if we’re parenting a “talker” or a “doer”. Those qualities show up very early.

Last but not least, don’t expect your child’s work ethic to spontaneously appear out of nowhere overnight if it hasn’t been there all along. A lot can be said for the process of maturing, but that alone will not get them there. For the most part, your child’s hardwiring is what it is. So accept who they are and explore how much they are willing to sacrifice. Those two factors will determine where they go from here.