Reflections on sports and college scholarships
Last Sunday our twin daughters played the last soccer game of their careers that began in first grade and ended in their senior year of college. Our team had made it to the finals in their conference, but lost.
November 8, 2015 at about 3:00.
This photo was taken after our very last soccer game “together.” (Dad was at work.)
Her first soccer practice, August 2000.
Their first season together, spring 2001.
Previously, I have blogged about how I think God views organized sports for kids. Today’s post however is comprised of my reflections as a mom. Nothing more.
Now that soccer has ended, what do I think about it all? What was profitable? What regrets do I have? What advice would I pass along? What cautions would I voice?
The final hug. She made it long.
Why listen to me?
I am not an expert. I don’t follow other soccer teams. I don’t know scores, records or players. I just love watching a good game, especially when my kids are playing.
On these merits alone I may not be worth listening to.
However, I have guided two girls through sixteen years of serious soccer. I have driven to practices and games; am familiar with the smell of used gear and uniforms; have purchased equipment and paid soccer club fees and coaches; been a team mom; known a variety of coaches; experienced a college recruitment process for two; learned about transferring colleges (our girls played soccer for a total of three colleges); and I now know what it costs. I know what it costs to pay college bills after partial scholarships are applied to the bursar bill. More importantly, I know more what it costs my children to bear the title of “student athlete.”
On these merits I may be worth a few minutes of your time.
What was profitable?
My favorite part of being a sports mom was all of the family time together. No one can take away the hours in the car, hotel rooms, restaurants and soccer fields. There was time enough for the girls to get bored with technology, and even their teammates, then talk with me. We got to process life–relationship drama, wins and losses, successes and failures. Anything and everything was discussed.
Our family had the unique privilege of participating in soccer together as a unit because we had twins on the same team and no additional children for ten years. Were soccer not something we did as a unit, I don’t know if our story would have lasted so long. Who knows?
In addition to family time, I am happy about the cardio-vascular fitness of my children. They each have resting heart rates in the 40’s. I can’t help but think they will reap life-long health benefits from that physical reality.
What regrets do I have?
Now that it’s over, I regret the lack of margin in my children’s lives. There was limited time for community activities, outside friendships and extra-curricular church involvement. I wonder if their years as a college athlete have diminished their ability to process emotions and enjoy sitting and talking with someone. They have lived a life of constant motion, always having some place to go. Only time will tell the damaging effects, if any.
My daughters disagree with me on this regret. Both insist they have loved soccer, the soccer friendships they have forged and the “trouble” sports has kept them out of. I agree, but as one daughter said to her sister the night after their last game: “I may like life without soccer. I never had a chance to find out!”
What advice would I pass along?
- Pace your children so they don’t burn out.
The best advice I ever received was to pace my children so they would not burn out. This came from my friend, Margee Curran, a swimmer. She is my age and still breaking world records. Margee swam distance freestyle at UC Berkeley from 1979-1983 and was the first woman to be named an All-American at Cal in 1980. She was also inducted into their Hall of Fame.
She remembers being 15 when her dad was transferred to France for his job. When she left the U.S., Margee was finishing 9th grade and was swimming with the nation’s best–averaging 25-30 miles each week in the pool.
While in France, Margee did her best to keep up with her swimming, but the sport was not as rigorous. When she returned to America, those that she had been swimming with were tired and on the verge of burnout. While many of her female swimming friends went to college on swimming scholarships, NONE of them swam for their entire college career. The overwork in high school had taken its toll. Meanwhile, there she stood after two years in France, invigorated and ready to swim for four years in college.
I called Margee regularly throughout the years and tried to pace my children. It wasn’t until they got their driver’s licenses that I fully released them to run their own soccer careers. If at that point they wanted to commute to a distant club or play soccer in the summer, the decision had become theirs.
Did it work? All I know is, they didn’t burn out. They both loved soccer until their final game at the age of 22.
2. Let your body pick your sport.
One of my daughters loved gymnastics in addition to soccer. At around age 11, doing both sports became too time-consuming and schedules conflicted. I remember the agonizing weeks of picking one over the other. Finally, one day I asked my daughter if she wanted to compete in college. She said yes.
“Well then,” I responded, “your 5′ 8″ body is going to serve you better in soccer than gymnastics.”
Years later, she called from the Big Ten conference as a student athlete at Indiana University and said, “Mom, I picked the perfect sport for my body. Thank you.”
What cautions would I voice?
College scholarships are elusive. Assume you will NOT get one, not that you will.
Now that I am at the soccer finish line and turning around to look at an overview of the whole college scholarship experience, I am struck by how elusive the college scholarship “dream” really is. Most high school athletes do not get athletic scholarships.
The recruiting process is pretty nuts. It does not matter how many coaches see your child play, it only matters how many coaches call your child back. Those call-backs then become your only choices for a scholarship–perhaps the school location is not ideal, or it does not offer your child’s desired major, or a coach wants to play your child in a position they don’t enjoy.
After all the years, the money, the dreams…the choices simply become what they are.
College sports may not produce college dreams come true.
Of the high school students we know that did get athletic scholarships, most did not finish their four years as a student-athlete. The reasons vary:
- Stress–The stress of practicing more strenuously and traveling was too much in combination with the stress of school.
- Injury–Their body broke down. Knees and feet didn’t hold up. ACL’s tore. (One of our daughters had three surgeries in college.)
- Coach changes--Very often the coach that recruits a player soon leaves for employment at another school. The next coach in line (who did not recruit your child) has a different perspective about what makes a great team and player. What one coach prizes in a player (size, technical skills, intensity), another may not.
In other words, the “stars have to align” for college sports to go well in terms of lots of playing time, improved individual and team performance every year, great relationships with teammates, and earning the desired degree.
Most college scholarships are not full rides.
I find that almost everyone assumes my girls are going to school for free. Not so. Neither had a full ride, as is true of most soccer players. In the end, I am so grateful for every dollar each received toward school, but I am not sure we got our money back from the years spent leading up to their college sports days.
I know we did not.
Her first college made it into the NCAA tournament.
So what is the bottom line?
I get distressed when nine-year-olds are being pushed with extra workouts for poor performances or urged to put in extra workouts to increase performance. (Remember Margee’s story.) I always have two distinct thoughts when parents appear overly concerned about the game or their child’s performance:
- Sir (or ma’am), you may be placing your child at greater risk for burn out.
- Sir, the scholarship you are striving for is elusive and probably won’t happen anyway–so enjoy today’s game.
Better to enjoy the ride.
Better to go on a journey and be okay if there isn’t a scholarship at the end.
Sports simply cannot be about the scholarship.
Our family happened to grow up in a soccer hot spot–lots of talent in a small geographic area filled with high quality clubs all vying for the same small talented pool of players.
Many local women got college scholarships within the high school class of 2012.
Fewer went all four years as a student athlete.
Fewer were superstars.
ONE made is to the U.S. women’s national team and started October 25, 2015 against Brazil. She played 90 minutes. — Emily Sonnett.
However, EACH of these girls enjoyed the game, no matter their current level of fame.
Enjoy life without soccer you two beauties. Remember that none of the difficult memories erase any of the good ones. Nothing erases a header goal as a freshman against the University of Nebraska or shattering the high school record for most goals in a season by 13 (new record:32). Nothing erases State Championships, captain bands, breathtaking tackles, gorgeous through balls, triple goals against nationally ranked teams, the discipline you developed to use time wisely or perform well even when tired or sick. Nothing erases the friendships or the hours you two have spent together. Embrace the good that occurred and move on.
I enjoyed the ride with you.
[To France, I echo these thoughts and say these prayers.]
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