Keeping Education-Based Athletics in Perspective

Written by: Troy Tennyson

The best private schools in the country understand that while athletics plays an extremely vital role in a well-balanced school, to play is a privilege and not a right. Athletics play a very important role in the physical and social development of young children. Having fun as a member of a team and learning to compete properly are two of the most valuable lessons that can be learned early in the life of a child.

Education-based athletics introduces an additional dimension to this development process. Throughout this process, it is essential that we, as educators, emphasize the importance of keeping athletics in proper perspective.

Advice for Parents

According to the October 2018 issue of High School Today, parents perform the most important role in ensuring that young athletes enjoy sports and stay healthy. Dr. Thomas John offers three pieces of advice for parents with student-athletes:

1. Don’t Push a Passion on Your Progeny

Is your student playing because they love it or because they feel obligated? As parents, it is important to keep athletics in perspective. Sometimes the excitement of watching a child compete as a member of a team, learn a sport, and have fun in many cases can devolve into an unhealthy preoccupation with their athletic success. According to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport (a total of about 45 million kids). By age 15, as many as 80 percent of these young athletes have quit playing the sport they once loved. One reason is the gap between a child’s desire to have fun and the misguided notion that a kid’s game is a miniature version of the grown-up competition, where the goal is to win at all costs.

2. Never over-evaluate your athlete’s performance – Be sure to keep it in perspective

The reality is that earning an athletic scholarship is not easy. In fact, only about 2% of high school seniors receive sports scholarships every year at NCAA institutions with the average scholarship offer being less than $11,000. Many young boys and girls grow up fantasizing about competing for their dream colleges. Approximately 8 million students currently compete in high school athletics in the U.S. However, only 480,000 of them will perform at NCAA/NAIA levels. Of this group, only a minute fraction of them will go on to become a pro-athlete or compete at the Olympic level.

3. Have an off-season plan when a sports season ends

Allowing your student to explore other interests, even playing different sports, is invaluable. However, it is imperative for talented athletes to continue training in the off-season, while also leaving time for other pursuits. For example, pitchers often maintain throwing and training regimens in the off-season that can be scheduled around other activities.

At the leading private schools in the country, balance is the key. The goal is to produce well-rounded graduates that are academically and socially balanced. Academics need to be the priority. Excellent grades earned from a rigorous curriculum in high school paired with excellent test scores will allow coaches and the university to stack scholarships based on your academic career and your athletic promise.

Personal Experience

I know these things first hand. In my experience, I coached a very talented softball pitcher that was also a bright and conscientious student. She began the recruiting process during her sophomore year of High School. She was first encouraged to find schools that fit her academic, social, and athletic needs. Second, she was advised to write the coaches of the schools that fit her criteria – no matter the division. She informed them of who she was, her academic interests, and where her club team would be playing that season. After completing these steps, she received many responses and was able to plan college visits based on the level of interest expressed by each coach.

In her final year, she was recruited and offered good scholarship money by two NCAA Division 1 teams, four NCAA Division 2 teams, and multiple NAIA teams. Although her athletic scholarship offers were sizeable, her total scholarship offers increased substantially when paired with academic money. One college even offered extra money if she agreed to live in the honor dorm. The point is that academic prowess in high school nearly doubled the scholarship she eventually signed.


Ultimately, student success in education-based athletics requires keeping sports in perspective and striking a proper balance between athletic and scholarly commitments. The leading private schools in America work alongside parents to develop well-rounded student- athletes that can compete, have fun, and develop realistic plans for their future success.

For more information on the essential characteristics of the best schools, download our free eBook to help you make well-informed decisions for your student.