Parenting Athletes Nov04

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Parenting Athletes

•Parenting Division I Athletes•

Student athletes who are lucky enough to play college sports are not your ordinary college students, particularly if they play at the Division I level. A student playing high-level college sports has the full-time job of being a college athlete while balancing a full load of academics and some semblance of a social life.  Supporting a DI college student athlete requires a bit more family involvement than an “ordinary” college student. It is truly a family team effort. Here are some things parents of student athletes might be thinking about:

How will my kid manage a full course-load of academics while playing on a team?

This is the ultimate challenge for college athletes. Certain classes will conflict with practice, travel and games schedules, so selecting courses becomes a little tricky. Missing classes during the season is common for athletes, and students will need to be diligent about catching up. Some professors will be supportive and some may not. Every school is different. Some schools glorify college athletes; others do not. Even in the best of circumstances, with the most organized, diligent student, athletics will impact academics. Oftentimes, the conflict between academics and sports precludes the DI athlete from majoring in rigorous disciplines such as science or engineering, although some students may be able to manage the workload.

If the student athlete is on scholarship, they may have added pressure to perform since they are essentially “getting paid” by the college to play sports, yet they most likely will have a minimum GPA requirement to maintain their scholarship.  Most colleges, however, do provide academic tutoring support specifically designed for student athletes.

As a parent, how can I support my college athlete?

  • Going to all the games is the fun and easy way to support your kid. But traveling to away games can get expensive and be challenging to schedule in, especially if you still have younger kids at home. Be aware, however, that having parents at every game is de rigueur at some schools. Talk to other athletes’ parents who know the ropes to find out exactly what to expect.
  • Letting go for the college parent of a DI athlete may have to wait until later. These college students may need more of your support – juggling their incredibly challenging array of schedules – than the typical college student. Parents have been known to network with each other to point out the courses that work especially well with the team’s practice and travel schedules.
  • Navigating team politics is another aspect of college athletics where parents may need to offer support and guidance to their students. Any number of issues – from how a team functions (or dysfunctions) to the intricate relationships with fellow teammates, captains and coaches – can be extremely challenging for kids to manage completely on their own. Dealing with these issues, however, is a great learning experience for college athletes, one that will prepare them well for the business workplace!
  • In addition, some parents often feel the need to be involved in decisions that affect their students’ health and future prospects. After all, if the goal is to ultimately play at the professional level, parents may reluctantly need to take on the role of manager, agent and advisor. Communicating directly with the coach, however, is something parents are advised not to do (unless you feel your student’s health is at risk). Stay in the background and be the shoulder to cry on, but let your athlete handle talking to the coaches themselves.
  • Staying connected to your kid and looking out for signs of possible distress are key. If they are struggling with intricate team politics, an injury, or emotional issues that can crop up due to the inevitable stress, you may need to step in and encourage them to get some help from mental health professionals through campus resources. A private sports psychologist is sometimes very helpful. Keeping athletes mentally healthy is as important as keeping physically fit –- maybe even more so.

What if they get injured? Will they lose their scholarship?

Answers to these questions can only be answered by the individual school. If a career-ending injury does occur, your kid will need a lot of support. There are issues of loss, identity, and fitness, not to mention the need to completely re-envision their lives and future plans.

Being a DI student athlete, and the parent of a DI athlete, is not easy.  There are added challenges that a typical college student and college parent will not face. But the rewards can be significant, particularly if your student is living out a dream of playing high-level college sports.

Nothing great comes without sacrifice, right?


Want to know more?

National Collegiate Athletic Association

8 Tips for the Student Athlete – Professors’ Guide by Jeremy S. Hyman, Lynn F. Jacobs (U.S. News)

Finding a Balance: College Student Athletes by Michael Braun (JMU college student)

The Life of a Student Athlete (Huffington Post)


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