Basketball in hoopGetting an athletic scholarship isn’t all about the money.  Parents and student-athletes can let their pride get in the way of the best choice.  They put the scholarship offer at the top of the list and the kid ends up at a college and program that aren’t the best fit.

In my case, I transferred after just one year.  I really enjoyed my first choice, the University of Minnesota.  But it wasn’t the best fit athletically or academically.

I have to admit that I transferred to Indiana University for athletic reasons, but other factors fell into place to make IU the best fit overall.  I’m glad for my Minnesota experience, but I’m thrilled for my Indiana experience.

I could have saved myself and my parents a lot of stress and expense had I known then what I know today.

So, the question is, “Which college and program are the best fit for your student-athlete?”

You need to have this discussion with your son or daughter.  This isn’t a discussion where you give them all your advice.  It’s a two-way discussion where they can verbalize their thoughts and desires.  It should be a healthy discussion that doesn’t throw anyone under the bus.

In that discussion, here are some things you should talk about as you set out the parameters to discover what kind of school will be the best fit.

For athletes:

  • What are your areas of academic interest?  Notice that I didn’t even use the word “major.”  That’s not important at the outset, but knowing the area of interest is extremely important.  You’re going to college primarily to get an education for your future.  The athletic scholarship is just the vehicle you hope will pay for all or some of it.
  • How far from home do you want to go?  Knowing the answer to this will help narrow the choices.  Of course, you may widen your geographic range down the road, so don’t make this your final preference.  It’s OK to change your mind.
  • What level can you effectively compete at?  Not everyone can compete at the D1 level, and that’s alright.  You need to know where you fit in the scheme of things so you can focus your recruiting efforts at the proper level.  Don’t get wrapped up in the teams you see on TV.  There are many more better schools, most likely.  Keep your mind open.
  • How big a school do you want to attend?  I loved my big schools. Minnesota was over 40,000 and IU was over 30,000.  My sons, however, went to universities of 4,000 students.  Our daughter went to large and small schools in her journey.  I know it is hard to make that call at the outset, but you need to find your answer before long.  That’s why school visits are such a help.
  • What style of coaching do you respond best to?  Think back on your competitive career so far.  Which coaches got the best out of you and why?  Answer those questions and you’ve built a template for your best college coach fit.  Of course, this means you’ll have to do some research on coaching style, etc.

For parents:

  • How much can you afford?  That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?  Your student-athlete can desire certain schools, but they may be out of your price range, even with a partial scholarship.  If you’re in a head-count sport, where every scholarship player is on full scholarship, then that changes things.
  • What is the best environment for your son or daughter?  You don’t want them to fall into some of the freshman year traps that can destroy their college career.  You know the safe environment they need.  Talk this through with your kid.
  • What can you do to research schools?  If the conversation begins with a college coach, I encourage you to do some research on that school.  That includes online research, a school visit and checking with athletes and parents about that school.  You’ll have to dig in to get the answers, but this is one thing you can do to avoid surprises after enrollment.

I know the financial pressure can be a burden, but putting that factor first can lead to the wrong, costly decision.  As a parent, you’re a guide.  A leader.  You’re the one who will promote healthy discussion.

Speaking of discussion, take the questions above and start through them as parent and student-athlete.  If you take one question each night at dinner, you’ll be through them all in a couple weeks (I’ve included time for practice, matches or games and  other factors).

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