Which came first, the dream of playing pro or the parent pushing the dream? As colleges and even high schools build athletic facilities to rival the pros, the pursuit of pro-level competition gets greater and greater. The Dallas Cowboys recently opened a 12,000-seat facility that will also host high school football games for teams in the Firsco Independent School District. The facility is the first in the NFL to split as a pro training facility and as a facility for a school system’s athletic teams. The facility is part of a mind-blowing $1.5 billion initiative to create a mixed-use development around the new practice facility.
Imagine as a high school player what it must feel like to play games in a state-of-the-art location that is used by the beloved home team. To get to the point of playing in such a spectacular location, the players must excel at their sport. After all, high school football is akin to a religion in Texas and many other parts of the country. To say the least, the experience of these players is one of adulation typically reserved for pro athletes. This raises the question of how parents are helping their children become more competitive at youth sports to be able to experience playing in a NFL facility, being chronicled in a book, getting a scholarship for college football, or even making the pros.
The notion of parents pushing their children to be successful in athletics is not a new one. This is the norm in sports — basketball, football andtrack and field — in today’s society. And who can blame the families? After all, the rags-to-riches stories highlighted by pro sports media make it seem easy to make millions playing in the pros through a little hard work and determination.
But while some parents choose to start their children early in a specific sport, have them play on teams year-round, get them into the best schools for the chosen sport, and even hire personal coaches, other parents take a riskier approach that can end up dangerously: holding the child back academically to ensure they can compete. This is not to say the first method does not have its own negative consequences, such as burnout, but the second holds much higher dangers that can affect a child’s life tenfold.
If a child is held back an academic grade to allow his or her body to mature, and s/he can compete on a higher level due to that maturation, then it isn’t hard to see why parents might be tempted to hold students back. The child will ideally be faster, stronger, and more skilled. While this is great in theory, it is not rooted in fact-based research. In fact, the chances of making it to the professional level are low. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle mentioned, “The NCAA found that 11.6 percent of college baseball players play in the Major Leagues, though 0.6 percent of high school players ultimately get that far.” When referencing other sports, the article mentions the following:
“Only 1.7 percent of college football players and 0.08 percent of high school players play at any professional level. Only 1.3 percent of college hockey players and 0.1 percent of high school players play professionally. In basketball, only 1.2 percent of male and 0.9 percent of female college players play pro ball; for both, only 0.03 percent of high school players make it. And only 1 percent of college soccer players and 0.04 percent of high school players go pro.”
These statistics are from an NCAA study in 2012, but the likelihood that the chances of going pro in those sports have gone up, especially with the revelation of concussion risks in youth sports, is low. So what does all this mean for the parent who wants to hold the child back academically?
In simplest terms: don’t. Not only are parents doing so against tremendous odds, but they are harming the child in other ways. According to a report chronicled on the website Education By The Numbers, “Kids who repeat a year between kindergarten and fifth grade are 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than kids with similar backgrounds, and even 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than siblings in the same family.” Holding a child back is setting that child up to fail. Not to mention that, from my 15 years as an educator, children who are held back can get bullied and despondent. In some cases, children in these situations seek attention in negative ways that result in serious issues such as stealing, theft, and mental health issues.
The bottom line is that while all parents would love to see their children reach a pro level of competition, holding them back to do so is not the right way to achieve this goal. There are too many negatives to this approach, which include academic failure. Instead of putting all that pressure and energy into the child’s athletic future, focus on academics, because that will get a child more substantial opportunities in life, and not broken lives and broken dreams.