To Play or Not to Play? Tough choices Student Athletes face when Choosing a College | Quantum Prep

To Play or Not to Play? Tough choices Student Athletes face when Choosing a College

Last Updated on March 8, 2020
Peter R. Wright

Worcester Public High School’s youth men’s Eights races in the Head of Charles Regatta in Boston.

For the average high school student applying to college, selecting the “right fit” can be a daunting challenge. Where will I get in? Can my family afford the tuition? What if I choose a school and do not like it once I am there? What if I decide to change my major? These are all important factors to consider when conducting one’s search. But, for student athletes, the equation can be even more complex, and, unfortunately, the vast majority are choosing not to play.

Having personally experienced life as a student/athlete in college more than twenty years ago, I can testify to the “grounding effect” that being on a sports team has on one’s work ethic on campus.

During my tenure as a high school teacher, guidance counselor, coach, and now as an independent educational consultant, I regularly encourage student/athletes to pursue challenging undergraduate and graduate/professional level studies at campuses with athletic programs where they can continue their athletic pursuits.

Nevertheless, for many of the multi-talented student/athletes I have helped place, they have forgone the opportunity to play at the college level, often choosing to attend well recognized schools with Division I nationally televised sports programs. They perceive these larger more well-known schools as potentially doing more for them in the future than if they had attended and played at a lesser-known Division III school.

This was certainly the case for Max. Max attended an independent Catholic High School North of Boston. As his guidance counselor and former teacher, I encouraged Max to consider selecting schools which would match his academic abilities coupled with athletics programs where he could play Division III soccer.

Several NESCAC schools, including Bates College, Bowdoin College, and Colby College all appeared to be a good fit for him and would have allowed him the chance to play. But, Max also expressed an interest in attending larger schools with more recognized athletic programs, even if it meant not playing soccer.

After a great deal of consideration, Max applied to Boston College through their Early Application program with the intent to apply during the regular admissions cycle for the remainder of his schools. He chose Boston College after being accepted in late December of that year. For Max, his decision to forgo playing soccer was a small sacrifice compared to the experience of attending a “major” university. But was this the best long-term decision for Max and why are so many students like Max making this decision?

According to statistics from the National Federation of State High School Associations (HFHS) of all fifty states and the District of Columbia, nearly fifty-six percent of students enrolled in high schools during the 2010-11 school year participated in athletics (freshman, junior varsity, and varsity levels), representing nearly 4,500,000 boys and 3,200,000 girls nationally. Yet, at the college level (Division I, II, and III), these numbers precipitously declined to under eight percent nationally according to

What factor(s) influence such a drop? Are sports at the college and university level so much more competitive than at the secondary level? Or are there other factors at play which diminish involvement.

Perhaps they feel they are not capable enough. In some instances, applicants select a school with an athletic program where only highly recruited athletes have a chance at making a team’s roster.

Many simply do not want to commit the hours each day that playing on a sports team would require.

Others may simply be burned out from having played sports since they could walk or these competitive youth sports have left them tired of the sports they “used” to love – and now have decided to leave behind as they move onto college.

According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports (in 2012) “a staggering 70 percent of children drop out of organized sports by the time they’re 13. Why? The most reported reason is that they’re not having fun anymore.

These statistics highlight the intensity of parents and coaches associated with youth football, Little League, and AAU sports teams – images made all too clear by the Esquire Network’s popular yet controversial show Friday Night Tykes, a show that focuses on America’s obsession with competitive youth sports, specifically youth football in the state of Texas.

While the show has many critics, it also has a tremendous national following. In a recent edition of Family Education Why Most Kids Quit Sports, author Carleton Kendrick echoes the concerns of many of the shows critics by noting several conditions that derail sports participation for children and pre-teens as early as elementary or middle school. “Playing sports loses its enjoyment for them and “fun” takes a back seat to winning… Parents and coaches need to be aware of what kids can accomplish at their differing developmental level – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially.”

While there are inherent flaws in both youth and high school athletics, there are many reasons why playing sports are such an integral component to an individual’s growth, particularly as a teenager transitions from high school to college.

In addition to the tangible health benefits associated with participation in sports, author Alana Patrick mentions several other positive attributes of association in her October, 2011 Huffington Post article entitled The Benefits of Playing Sports in College. Specifically: being a member of a team; having a common goal; and working through adversity are often powerful motivators. “Between spending so much time together, sharing a passion for the sport you play, and riding the emotional roller coaster that is wins and losses, you are likely to form deeper friendships with your teammates than with anyone else at college.”

Maintaining one’s eligibility to play is a centralized component of college athletics as well. On a quarterly basis as an undergraduate, my program’s assistant basketball coaches would check in with my professors to make certain that I was attending classes and maintaining a minimum grade point average. Initially, I was embarrassed that they were checking up on me. Over time, however, I came to realize that they cared as much for my general welfare as for maintaining my eligibility. Finally, the networking opportunities that exist for athletes after their playing days are over are certainly important as well.

Another significant benefit of athletic participation in college is the opportunity to compete for scholarships – the opportunity to have one’s college tuition paid for in trade for one’s athletic acumen.

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