Dear Coach Bryant,
My son loves playing high school lacrosse, and I think he’d really benefit from being part of a college team. He has expressed a desire to research college programs, but I am wondering whether my son has realistic expectations for what the life of a collegiate athlete entails. Can you give us some insight?
Practical in Pennsylvania
It’s a good sign that you’re planning ahead and it’s an important question that I think every parent whose child is pursuing college athletics should consider: does my child have what it takes? It’s a decision to be made with the day-to-day reality of the commitment in mind.
College athletes make a long-term commitment to their sport.
Being part of a collegiate team is likely to be one of the most formative and fun parts of a student’s life. But that may come with an expectation that he is willing to sacrifice some other aspects of college life in order to prioritize the sport. Encourage your child to look at the big picture, and consider what is most important for him to gain from the overall college experience (of course, in addition to a degree in his chosen field). Does he have his heart set on spending a semester in Paris, joining a fraternity, or going on weekend camping trips? In some college environments, it might be possible to combine one or more of those interests with being a college athlete. In others, it might be impossible.
College athletes are mentally tough.
Your child’s coach, teammates and other staff will support him, but maintaining a tough mindset will be paramount. Can he handle constructive feedback? Can he manage his emotions on the field when the coach lays into him? A thrilling victory could be followed by an emotional high, but conversely a terrible game might happen the day before an impending chemistry test. Could he compartmentalize his disappointment quickly?
College athletes prioritize training and travel.
Reflect on the amount of time your son currently spends training and competing. Will a college practice schedule be a rude awakening? A college sports schedule is a grind, and it can be draining. Many weekends are spent on the road. He’ll have to balance the flights and long drives with course assignments and even schedule his classes around practices.
College athletes must be communicators.
Your son’s executive functioning skills will be critical. He’ll have to communicate with his coaches and professors while maintaining his course load and staying disciplined. He may even have to develop a new way to communicate long-distance with his first coach and supporter (you) since you won’t always be on the sidelines.
Pursuing collegiate athletics requires dedication. Remember that this is a long-term commitment and that quitting after a year or two might not be good for future networking opportunities. Club sports or intramural sports might be a better fit if your child loves to play but doesn’t want to commit to the lifestyle. Ask yourself: is your child’s sport an essential piece of his identity? If so, it’s a good sign that pursuing a spot on a college team could end up being one of the most formative and rewarding experiences he will ever have.
All the best,