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The Scholarship Syndrome

The Scholarship Syndrome

Hey Honey, wouldn’t it be great if Rebecca could get an athletic scholarship to go to college? It would cover all her tuition, books, and room and board for four years! Wow, imagine our savings! I could teach her everything she needs to know. We could start right away. Of course, we’ll need to practice every day. I know she has my speed and coordination, and with your brains she’d be a natural. What do you think, Dear?”

“Nurse! Could you please get my crazy husband out of the delivery room—before I kill him?!”

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating. But I’ve known many parents who have desperately wanted their sons or daughters to receive a free ride to college on an athletic scholarship.

Their delusions of grandeur begin almost before their child can say “ball”—let alone throw, shoot, hit, or kick one with any kind of proficiency.

A parent’s motivation is usually twofold. There is the powerful intrinsic reward of parental-pride when a child performs well, and there is the extrinsic reward of money that makes the athletic scholarship a coveted prize to be courted.

These two factors working together can put stars in any parent’s eyes, and can actually blind them to the reality that perhaps an athletic scholarship in not the best fit for their child.

Who Wants It More—You or Your Child?

Would you say your child really loves to play or that they play for your love? Maybe you want them to play sports more than they want to play.

If the young, aspiring athlete begs for lessons, longer practices, and stronger competition, then by all means encourage them to follow their God-given drive to achieve their physical potential.

But watch closely for any signs of burnout. They will be a great candidate some day for an athletic scholarship if they survive the training, gaining a very valuable education along the way if they stay focused on their long-term, attainable goals.

On the other hand, if your child has to be bribed to practice, coaxed to compete, and dragged to workouts, then at some point you need to put a stop to the extras necessary for creating the elite college athlete.

Let your athlete’s natural interests and desires be your guide as to how far they take their athletic career.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Those student-athletes who long for more and are enjoying their athletic journey should be encouraged to explore where their gifts can take them.

However, be warned that playing college athletics has evolved into a full-time job for the scholarship athlete. Coaches make astronomical salaries while athletes expend tremendous energy earning their keep and/or building their resumes for future professional play or the job market.

The student-athlete’s day is longer than that of a typical college student because they practice three to four hours a day, six to seven days a week, eight to nine months a year.

The word “off-season” is an oxymoron. The serious student-athlete is always in training for their sport by lifting, running, sharpening their skills, looking for that elusive edge.

Because of the schedule demands, many athletes change their majors to accommodate travel and practice. But on a positive note, for the disciplined student, many scholarships end up covering the cost of an advanced degree.

Just beware that all sports scholarships come with strings attached. It can be a great experience for the athlete who eats, sleeps, and breathes sports. But it can be hell on earth for the athletically gifted son or daughter who suffers from burnout.

I’m still proud to say that I played basketball four years at Indiana University, and college athletics is still my favorite sporting venue, but the caring parent must proceed with caution.

Don’t Take “Play” Out of the Game

So in order to avoid the pitfall of the scholarship syndrome we parents must focus on knowing why our children play, and keep in mind a realistic view of what it means to play college sports.

Let’s enthusiastically encourage our children to play sports for all the best reasons,(to be a part of a team, to grow in character, leadership, and perseverance, to broaden minds and strengthen bodies, to enjoy the experience, to have fun)!

And let’s assure our children that our love is not dependent on their participation, their performance, or their ability to get a college scholarship.

Scholarship or not, athletics, when done well, for all the right reasons, will serve our children and enhance their education, enriching their lives in multiple ways.