Parents, coaches, and trainers are constantly debating the pros and cons of early specialization among youth athletes. Many parents believe that if their child is going to have any chance of earning an athletic scholarship to college one day they simply have to become a master of one sport as soon as possible. Having an extra few years of training, coaching, and competitive play under their belt is going to make all the difference, right? The counter argument is that early specialization leads to burnout and pushes kids to quit at a young age, and since most kids aren’t going to get that elusive athletic scholarship early specialization is hurting more players than it helps. We can’t argue that some of the world’s best athletes started at a very young age and spent years playing hard, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.
Sports moms blogger Janis Meredith reported that “A study of numbers provided by the National High School Federation and the NCAA shows that the number of Division I scholarships offered in a given year accounts for anywhere from less than .5 % to 2%.” With tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of high school athletes across the country, only a few thousand are getting any kind of financial aid for their athletic prowess. For those who do manage to earn an elusive athletic scholarship to college, the average scholarship is less than $11,000 per year. So much for a full fide! In fact, there are only six sports where all the scholarships are full ride including football, men and women’s basketball, and women’s gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis. That means that even if your son is a stellar baseball pitcher, he’s not getting college paid for entirely by his fastball.
According to a NCAA survey last year, playing football required 43.3 hours per week; college baseball, 42.1 hours; men’s basketball, 39.2 hours; and women’s basketball, 37.6 hours. When you divide 42.1 hours a week by that $11,000 (assuming a 15 week semester), your son is basically earning $5 an hour while on the field. They could be making almost double as a barista at Starbucks for a little perspective. But the time commitment for playing on a D1 team is so overwhelming that your son/daughter probably won’t have time to get an off-campus job to help cover the rest of their college costs. Their sport is their full-time job, sometimes to the detriment of their education. Certain majors are simply more time consuming and challenging than others, and doing well in organic chemistry is hard if you have no time to study!
In 2011, the NCAA put up the statistics that show the likelihood of your child going pro. At the end of the day, only eight in 10,000 of high school seniors will actually be drafted and play professional football. Approximately one in 200 high school senior boys will eventually be drafted by an MLB team. Even if your son/daughter is one of the lucky ones to get an athletic scholarship, that is still no guarantee that they will make it to the pros. And remember, one injury at the first game can ruin a collegiate athlete’s career forever!
So yes, it is possible that your child could be one of the lucky few to get that athletic scholarship. But it’s important to realize that the odds are simply not in their favor. Not to say that lightning can’t strike, but is the risk of burnout, especially if your child is only playing because you want them to play, worth that tiny chance? We’d rather have a generation of intramural athletes that love to play pickup games every weekend than a generation of kids who burned out on sports by the time they were 13!