by Catharine Aradi

Parents of young athletes often get so excited at the prospect of their player competing in college that they lose sight of the "big picture."  Getting a scholarship becomes the end, rather than the means to help pay for college, and it can be easy to let your perspective get all out of whack.  Love of the game should be every player’s primary reason for giving up weekends, traveling to practices and tournaments, and spending long hours developing her skills.  Doing it because her folks want softball to help with her college costs should not be a reason at all.

If you’re an athlete whose parents invest time and money in your being the best player you can be—-e.g., pitching lessons, equipment, travel, team fees—-without looking for any payback beyond a positive experience for you, then you are extremely fortunate. Sadly, I see far too many families who either don't understand what college means in the first place or who have completely lost sight of the only reason a softball scholarship is worth something.

A college education can be a ticket to a better life, yet for some parents, a softball scholarship becomes more about bragging rights.  They don’t seem to care whether their daughter loves the game and is learning positive life lessons from it, nor do they understand that the work ethic they’re trying to instill in her when it comes to her pitching isn't worth much if it doesn’t carry over into the classroom...and from there into her adult work experiences.

Yet, these same parents will often be astounded when their player takes her SAT, and her Reading and Math scores total 790.  They’re also likely to be dumbfounded when a coach says he can't recruit their daughter because her grades aren’t good enough for his college.  These parents—-who, admittedly, have made sacrifices to enable their daughter to play on a travel team----forgot to read the fine print that told them what classes she needed to take and what grades she needed to get to be eligible to compete for an NCAA or NAIA team.

When it comes time for you to choose a college, I hope your parents don't want your decision to be based on the dollar amount you’re being offered or the athletic prestige of the school.  Hopefully, they'll remember to ask whether you’ll graduate in four years with a degree you can use and whether you’ll be happy there. This may not seem like much, but how else will your huge investment of hours of study hall, practice time, conditioning, and road trips will be worth something?

While you are dealing with all the challenges that high school brings, you should look to your parents for guidance.  You need the structure and support they provide so that you can grow up successfully.  It’s pretty hard for a 14 or 15-year old to say to her high school counselor, "Here's a list of academic classes I have to take to be ready for college sports.  I need to get the best grades I can in these classes, and I plan to take my SAT or ACT by the spring of my junior year.  I want to stay focused on academics because while athletics may pay for part of my education, getting a college degree is my long-term goal.  Will you please help me reach that goal?"

Don't hesitate to ask your parents for help with your college search. It’s their job to be aware of things like academic requirements and recruiting rules.  If your mom and dad can take Friday afternoon off work to drive you to a travel ball tournament, surely they can go into work a bit late Monday morning in order to have a quick chat with your counselor.  If they can find the time to do soft-toss with you in the back yard each night, they should be willing to spend a few minutes making sure you’re doing your homework.  If they can cough up $200 for a new glove, maybe they can also spend $30 on a book or program that will prepare you for your SAT (or on my book, Preparing to Play Softball at the Collegiate Level, which will not only give you a step-by-step guide to the college search process, but will also present your family with a realistic overview of college recruiting.)

Another huge part of being a good softball parent has to do with knowing when to stop, take a breath, and think. For example, when you're at a tournament and another parent starts boasting about how his or her player got scholarship just by showing up. Smile, say congrats, and walk away. What this parent is saying may or may not be true.  But either way, it has nothing to do with your daughter's college search.

When you're tempted to start grilling the college coach sitting next to you in the bleachers, don't. If that coach has specifically asked to chat with you and it's within the NCAA time frame for communicating with recruits or their families, that's one thing.  But if that coach doesn't know you from Adam or your daughter is only a sophomore, don't risk jeopardizing her eligibility by choosing to ignore the rules.  Speaking of rule of thumb? If a college coach really wants to find out more about your player for the purpose of possible recruitment, he or she will do just that!!!

Being a good parent is never an easy job.  Being a great softball parent can be incredibly difficult.  Everyone in the family has choices to make, and they may not be easy ones.  Remind your parents that you’re trying to make smart choices both as a student and as an athlete.  I promise you, ten years from now, this will be something you, mom and dad will be very glad you did!