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Resources Oct 25, 2012

How much does a soccer scholarship really cost? (Pt. 2 of 2)

By Dr. Wendy Lebolt

Editor’s note: Last week, in part 1 of this piece, Dr. Lebolt analyzed the growing intensity and expense of participation in elite youth soccer as a means to attain athletic scholarships at the university level. She continues this discussion below, citing examples from her own family’s experience.

A few ambitious players may even make the decision to forgo universities with top-notch academics to accept the invitation from the soccer program that will take them. What happens if an injury, an illness, or an unforeseen event forces them out of the game? Will they still be happy with the college they have chosen?  That is the best advice I’ve heard on this topic, and it comes from the best coaches in the business, the ones who care first and foremost for their athletes as young people and not as soccer currency.

My oldest was an excellent youth soccer player. She had the physical gifts, the skills, the reflexes, and the game-sense to play in college. We anted up to support her dream, so much so that my husband’s response to estimating what we spent was, “I don’t even want to know.” During her senior year of high school she told us she didn’t want to play college soccer. I had seen it coming; her love for the game was waning. The pressure she felt not to misstep in an instant and give up the game-losing goal in a 1-0 game was heavy. She didn’t like being in a showcase. She didn’t thrive in an environment where it was “every man for himself” because of the college coaches watching.

If I’d seen it sooner, I could have saved us several grand. But I’m glad she realized this about herself and she had the courage to say it. I’m afraid that in all that writing of checks we were so busy booking airfare and ranking colleges, we may have mixed a bit of what we wanted for her in with what she wanted. It took her confession of “I don’t want to play” to focus us on the most important thing: where she saw herself headed.

Today, she’s in law school at a top-ranked university. Academics and chutzpah are what got her there. Her professional success will require dedication, discipline and a whole lot of guts.  So, you tell me, were those years of top-level soccer worth the expense? That’s certainly where she developed the character traits she is wielding capably now on a new field of play – one that has more career potential. Could she have learned them somewhere else at a much lesser cost? I’m not sure.

Some of these kids, probably most that play at the elite level, learn best by putting themselves in motion; I call them kinesthetic kids. Kids that need to do in order to learn. Hitting the books will only get them so far. What they figure out they can do for themselves will take them the rest of the way. For parents, even the best-intended and most-resourced among us, this means offering the support we can and then getting out of their way.

But let’s be plain here, if what you pay for your kid to play soccer is what you have saved for their college tuition, say so. Make that choice as a family, and be sure the kid is on board and old enough to be part of the discussion. Money is a terrible thing to wedge between a parent and a child and even worse to dangle over their head. In today’s competitive youth soccer environment, it may be a little like playing the lottery and the undertones are reverberating in our families.

If you are struggling with how to manage the recruiting environment for college soccer play, Diane Drake, women’s soccer coach at George Mason University, has offers some helpful suggestions here.

Diane, who says she and her fellow coaches are recruiting “ALL the time,” recommends sending kids on the cusp of college play to camps, where the college coaches and current players can get to know the kids and how it feels to coach them. The kid gets the chance to try on this kind of coaching and this kind of competitive environment. It’s not for every kid, even if the parent hopes so.

I talked with a family a few years back whose oldest child was captain of his second-division U15 team. Mom told me she never missed a game. In fact, she confided, “If he quit, we’d probably end up in therapy.”

The day will come when they quit. Sooner or later, it will come. Let’s not end up destitute or in therapy. These kids are our world’s greatest natural resource. I’m thankful to all my kids’ coaches for being their biggest supporters and, at the higher levels, their toughest critics.

Someday, I hope they’ll have a boss like that. One who will see the spark in them and encourage them to play their game, the way it’s meant to be played. In my daughter’s case, that will be as ringer on the law firm soccer squad.

Editor’s note: This is the latest column from Dr. Wendy Lebolt, a longtime coach and physiologist who is the founder of Fit2Finish, a Northern Virginia-based training, fitness and rehabilitation company which works with teams and individual players to maximize health and performance. The Soccer Wire is excited to present Wendy’s learned perspectives on the mental, physical and psychological aspects of the beautiful game. Learn more about her background here.

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