An article in Thursday's Washington Post examines a subject that generates a lot of heat among parents of talented young athletes but often not much light: whether it’s sensible to commit to intensive year-round training in one sport in hope of nabbing a college sports scholarship for your child.
The Post story doesn’t answer yes or no. But it draws a startling picture of how all-consuming sports become when kids and parents commit to this wearying path.
These two paragraphs about Sami Kuykendall, one of the elite Washington area players profiled in the article, say it all.
"A 17-year-old junior midfielder, Kuykendall has spent each of the past three spring seasons splitting time between the Vienna high school’s varsity girls’ soccer team and the under-17 McLean Premier Soccer (MPS) Dragons, the sixth-ranked club team in the country. The ball to the face, the concussions, the shattered jaw suffered in an aerial collision during a game last year (and subsequent tooth implant) are just a few notable entries on the list of injuries incurred during basically a year-round soccer season with a singular goal: a college scholarship.
“I made a decision, consciously when I was a lot younger, that this was the way to get to college soccer,” Kuykendall said. That decision has meant she has played approximately 90 games in the past calendar year, including three club league schedules and a barrage of tournaments. By comparison, consider: D.C. United [a professional soccer team] plays approximately 35 to 40 games a season, including exhibitions and club competitions.”
Kids like Sami sacrifice a lot to be soccer standouts. Their lives can become an endless cycle of practices, games, fitness training, private lessons and a like. The constant play takes a physical toll. Their parents give up plenty too. The Post article totes up the annual expenses of Cortlyn Bristol, another elite player. Her mother tells the Post that Cortlyn’s soccer tab the past three years, including such line items as practice apparel, team dues and international travel, topped $41,000.
Whether such choices are reasonable is for parents and their children to decide, without a lot of unsolicited advice from the blogosphere. But before setting your sights on raising a college athlete, it’s worth considering the sobering odds and financial realities.
Fewer than seven high school athletes in 100 play intercollegiate sports in college, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Just 5.8 per cent of high school football players, one in 17, will suit up for a college squad and the odds are bleaker for men’s soccer (5.7 per cent), baseball (5.6), women’s basketball (3.1) and men’s basketball (2.9). Of overall scholarship aid handed out to college students each year, sports awards are a sliver. 18 per cent at public colleges and universities; just seven per cent at private ones, according to research by Sandy Baum of Skidmore College and Lucie Lapovsky of Mercy College compiled for The College Board.. In short, being a gifted chemistry major pays better.
Even players with the talent to land sports scholarships, in all but exceptional cases, are left with tuition With limited scholarships to offer, coaches carve up awards giving less money to more athletes. The average athletic scholarship for the 138,216 athletes in Division I or Division II in 2003-4 was $10,409, about half the cost of attendance at some state universities and a fifth of tuition at pricier private ones.
One mother, whose daughter swims for the University of Delaware offered this sobering appraisal to the New York Times: “People run themselves ragged to play on three teams at once so they could always reach the next level. They’re going to be disappointed when they learn that if they’re very lucky, they will get a scholarship worth 15 percent of the $40,000 college bill.”
Sami Kuykendall is luckier than most. According to the Post, she has committed to a 60 percent scholarship to play soccer at Virginia Commonwealth University in fall 2010.
This post also appears at BusinessWeek's "Working Parents."