For Parents
Athletic scholarships: Are you eyeing one for your child?

Athletic scholarships: Are you eyeing one for your child?


By Linda Alberts 

College. There is so much hope tied into this two syllable word. It represents a path to a higher education, finding a passion, a successful career, a comfortable living, a better tomorrow.

Everything parents want to give to their child.

But it comes at a price. And that price seems to be ever-increasing.

According to the College Board, the yearly average cost of tuition and fees at a public, four-year university (in state) is $9,139, a public, four-year university (out of state) is $22,958 and a private four-year university is $31,231.

GoodCall’s Real Cost of College report provides an inside look at the various costs of attending college - application fees, tuition and living expenses, among others - as well as offers up advice.

These costs lead many parents to look for a way to afford college for their child. If the child is an athlete – especially if they’re talented, or perceived to be talented through the parents’ eyes – it may seem like a perfect fit to chase an athletic scholarship.


The primary reasons children play sports is for fun and to be with their friends. A college athletic scholarship is not on their mind the first time they take to the field or court.

But has the thought crossed your mind? (Be honest!) It’s ok to be hopeful. It’s fun to imagine your child overcoming the odds to receive a coveted sports scholarship to play for a good school – as long as you don’t define your child’s worth by whether they actually do receive a college scholarship in sports.

“Success in sports is often defined as achievement and external rewards,” says Dr. Jen Gapin Farrell, school counselor at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minn. and a certified sport psychology consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). “It seems to be more of an expectation now, especially at the club level, that those involved will have an opportunity to achieve a scholarship. Years ago, club sports were not as prevalent as they are today, so the expectation to get a scholarship or turn pro did not seem as tangible as they do now.”

According to a survey released in June of this year by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 26 percent of parents whose high school aged child plays sports hope their teen will become a professional athlete.

But the statistics for children playing beyond high school are sobering. According to the NCAA, an estimated one million teens will play high school football. Of those children, 6.5 percent will continue the sport in college and 1.6 percent will be drafted into the NFL.

Let’s look at basketball next. Approximately 541,054 males and 433,344 females will play high school basketball: 3.4 percent will play men’s college basketball and 3.8 percent will play women’s college basketball. Finally, 1.2 percent of the male athletes will be drafted by the NBA while only .9 percent of their counterparts will be drafted by the WNBA.


But still, colleges offer athletic scholarships. Someone has to be on the receiving end, right – so why not your kid? Before you put all your eggs back into the scholarship basket, ask your child if they even want to play collegiate athletics.

“Often parents assume that an athletic scholarship is what the kid wants, or the parents feel that it’s the best way to afford school,” says Farrell. “I’ve worked with many kids who tell me how frustrated they are that their parents are pushing for a scholarship when the kid has no desire to compete at the collegiate level.”

Farrell says playing college sports is not for everyone. Kids who play sports in college have a different college experience than most students. She adds that, “the intensity of the work and time commitment is not something all kids want to be a part of.”

Instead of focusing on obtaining a scholarship, parents should focus on their child’s enjoyment and whether the child is progressing in their skill level.

Another thing Farrell says parents should focus on is letting their child go through the whole youth sports experience – the good and bad.

“I think a big challenge for some parents is letting their child experience the ups and downs of victory and defeat and the lessons they can learn from those experiences,” she says.

Not every child will receive a college scholarship, but every child can receive a youth sports experience filled with lasting friendships and memories, and life lessons to help them make the most of college, their career and beyond.

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