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The “Price” of a Scholarship


When we tell our kids they are “on the money” during an athletic competition, it’s about as good a piece of praise as we can hand out – we’re telling them they’ve got the task exactly right; they’ve solved the problem; they’ve figured it all out.

When elite young athletes advance to playing at the collegiate level, “on the money” takes on a whole new meaning, and not one that is favorable in most circumstances. “On the money” now refers to a student athlete’s status at the school, as in on an athletic scholarship. While scholarships are a true blessing for any student-athlete; getting a free university education while also getting to continue on one’s athletic career at the next level, the rigors and pressures that come with that terminology and status are often invisible to most eyes, and that makes them all the more dangerous.

To the outside world, getting an athletic scholarship is nothing short of a joyous occasion. Your child receives room, board, books, meals, and tuition all on someone else’s dime and gets to play their sport of choice at the next level up.

Big Business

But sports at the college level are no longer “play”, they are serious business and serious responsibility starting with the school’s athletic director through the vast network of coaches, assistants, trainers, support staff, academic tutors, compliance personnel, season ticket holders, marketers, and of course, the athletes themselves.

Being “on the money” carries with it an unspoken commitment that each coach at each school expects athletes to adhere it, namely that sports comes first, above schoolwork, above friends, above simple things like going home for the weekend or choosing to go see a movie instead of attending a voluntary practice.

While it is not the universal case, winning is at the forefront of most coaches’ minds at the collegiate level. Winning is the most assured form of job security, and there are many coaches who will do whatever is necessary to make sure they continue to win, with far less for player happiness and good will than many athletes experience in high school.

Life Balance Struggle

Without their parents around, many young athletes give in to the “sports above all else” mentality that is perpetuated at college campuses and find their life balance getting severely out of whack. It can become a trial by fire as young people struggle to find time for their sport, their friends, and their academics.

Without proper guidance – a network of coaches, advisors, and parents to help young athletes prioritize their academics and athletic commitments, they are destined to fail. Some of the greatest athletes in the world have never played a single minute of competitive time at the collegiate level because the pressure of college commitments overwhelmed them.

What Can Parents Do?

Prepare. Gather as much information as you can before your athlete heads off to college on what their academic and athletic schedules will be like. Find out what resources are available to them for help with academics, help with transitioning to their new environment. Are their tutors available? Mentors? What role do assistant coaches play? Work with your college athlete on what their typical day will be like and how they can set aside time for making academics just as vital as athletics.

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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.