By Todd Dagenais
UCF Forum columnist
In the nearly two decades that I've coached women's volleyball, I've recruited and coached hundreds of players and met hundreds of their parents, all of whom have one thing in common: When it comes to their kids, they are the loudest cheerleaders in the gym.
As a parent myself, I get it. You should be your kid's biggest supporter. But for parents of high school athletes, in particular, it's important to maintain perspective. Don't lose sleep worrying about catering to every need of your athletic child. Don't spend insane amounts of money trying to get your child noticed by college sport recruiters, and please don't relentlessly chase that athletic scholarship.
Does it shock you this advice is coming from a Division I collegiate head coach?
With a Division I scholarship worth upwards of $250,000, the race to earn a scholarship can be quite intense. In reality, it's starting to get out of control. Private lessons, video-production companies and recruiting services have become such an unnecessary part of high school sports.
Let's examine some of the facts.
Just how many scholarships are given each year, and what percentage of graduating high school players actually earn a Division I scholarship?
In women's volleyball, for example, roughly 100,000 young players graduate from high school each year. Each of them is technically part of the college recruiting pool. All coaches have a very specific list of athletic requirements their prospects must meet, without any exception. If they don't meet the athletic requirements, they don't make the list. For my volleyball program at UCF, 100,000 prospects quickly dwindles to a recruiting pool of 1,500.
Now begins the toughest part of the process. College coaches begin to evaluate prospects on two of the most important requirements: academic ability and character.
The sport of women's volleyball is quite fortunate. For the most part, young women playing our sport range between above average to elite in their academic profile. There have only been a couple of occasions in my seven years at UCF when we were forced to eliminate a prospect due to a poor academic resume. Our team currently carries a 3.4 GPA, has a 100 percent graduation rate, and we are in the top 10 percent nationally in term of academic progress. Anyone who isn't capable of maintaining my academic standards is off my list -- again, with no exceptions.
It's an incredible challenge to determine character and work ethic. We can decide in five minutes if someone has the athletic ability to play in our program, but sometimes it takes us more than a year to determine if they have the "character" to be a part of our program.
We spend time watching prospects at high school and club matches. We talk to their teachers and guidance counselors. We watch how they interact with their coaches, teammates and parents. A prospect's true character is always revealed in moments of failure and stress.
Playing sports provides plenty of opportunities for both.
Corporate human resources and collegiate athletics recruiting are ironically similar. We seek out talented people, interview them, compare them to other candidates and ultimately select the right person for the position. It's extremely important that prospects understand they also are being judged by what they put on their Facebook page, and what they write and retweet on their Twitter account. One lapse in judgment could cost them $250,000. It's already happened many, many times.
Our recruiting list that started at 100,000 and was cut to 1,500 based on athletic talents, now sits at 500 after we determine if the students are the right "fit" for our program. So how many of those 500 prospects will get a scholarship offer from UCF? Three. That's right... three.
NCAA Women's Volleyball allows 12 scholarships on a team per year, which equates to three in each graduating class. The odds are not very good, are they?
Even if we look at the national landscape, the odds don't improve very much. There are 900-950 Division I scholarships awarded annually. Take into account the original 100,000 prospects, and then the true odds become painfully clear. Less than 1 percent of high school senior volleyball players are going to get a Division I scholarship. Add in Division II, Division III, NAIA, and Junior College combined, and less than 3 percent will be awarded a scholarship.
So my advice to parents of a high school athlete: Enjoy these years. Keep everything in perspective. An athletic scholarship shouldn't be the goal; the goal should be all of the wonderful life lessons -- achievement, defeat, teamwork -- that sports can teach us.
Quit paying for private lessons and expensive club sports for the sole purpose of earning an athletic scholarship. Private lessons are for improving performance at something you love to do. Sports should be about enjoying the competition and spending time with friends who have similar interests. All that time and energy you are spending on being noticed by a college recruiter is better spent concentrating on academics.
Use that time to determine what skills your child is proficient in and what they are passionate about. As I tell my players: "Your career has an address, and it's located at the intersection of proficiency and passion."
Your child's involvement in sports should be about determining what they love, what they're good at, what they can learn, and how they can apply these lessons to real life.
Todd Dagenais is UCF's head volleyball coach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org