Today’s note is a reprise of a note from May of 2011. It is even more poignant today than then. I hope it serves you well.
Every year I observe parents, coaches, school athletic directors and even sport chaplains as they relentlessly drive young athletes toward the goal of becoming a “Division I student-athlete.” Their rationale is overly simple, “If you work hard enough, you can earn a Division I full-ride scholarship to college.” They’ve bought the foolish end of the American dream, “You can be anything you want to be.”
The reality is much the opposite and one simple statistic bears this out. Only 3% of all high school student-athletes ultimately receive any measure of scholarship to compete in college sports. Three out of one hundred receive anything. If the goal of the endless hours of practices, private lessons, thousands of miles driven to out of state games, tens of thousands of dollars spent to be a part of “travel teams,” and the untold measure of grief, anxiety, pressure and emotional trauma endured by the family is a total loss on 97% of those involved. If the acquisition of a college scholarship is the goal, almost everyone fails.
If, however, the goal is something other, one’s chance of success is much greater. If we can simply focus on the athlete’s experience with the sport, with his or her teammates, with the coaches, officials and opponents, the athlete is suddenly free to experience the sport without the artificial pressure to perform for an elusive and probably unrealistic goal several years in the future.
More simply said, the goal of earning a scholarship must not be the goal. It is simply too remote and results in failure for almost everyone concerned. Let’s focus on this game, this practice, this day and an attitude which helps the players, coaches, parents and everyone else to experience the best parts of sport. Hear Jesus’ words from Mark chapter 6 and verse 34, "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Bottom line – Mom and Dad, back off! Give your child a break! Coach, stop it. Your quixotic drive to get your player a D-I scholarship will not be the validation of your coaching. Chaplain, cut it out. Your attempts to manipulate your relationships in sport will not enhance your ministry even if the student-athlete becomes All-American and ultimately a pro All-Star. Let’s help those we lovingly lead to experience the best of sport in the moment. Let’s help them cultivate a growing sense of the Lord’s presence and pleasure in the activity of sport. That is an enduring joy which does not require a scholarship.