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7 Questions Parents of High School Athletes Should Ask

Lexi Langendorf

The NCAA states that it represents almost half a million student athletes, meaning there is a large audience of parents who expect to help their child through the college athletics experience. However, many parents are unfamiliar with the process of transitioning from high school to college-level athletics and may not know what to pay attention to and be critical of.

When an athlete commits to a college or university, they're committing to more than just the school’s sports program. There are other important variables to consider, such as mental health and academics. Drawing from my own personal experience as well as expert suggestion, here are seven important questions every parent of a high school athlete should ask and have answered before making a college decision.

1. How well does your student know the coach?

Coaches want to recruit talented athletes to play for them. So be aware that some of them will tell your high school student whatever they want to hear in order to keep their interest.

Amanda Charpentier, former Judson University women’s volleyball player, said she wished she had known her coach better before committing to play on her team.

“A coach can help encourage and develop players,” Charpentier said. “Or they can have the opposite effect. Knowing your coach can help you learn which type of coach they will be.”

After meeting a college coach, make sure you have a good grasp on whether or not the coach cares about your student’s well-being beyond just athletics, including their academics, social life, mental health and physical safety.

Compare the coach's characteristics to those of coaches your student has had in the past and see how they measure up to your personal expectations of a good coach.

2. Can your student envision spending extensive time with the team?

Team members generally view new players as either a positive or negative thing. As a result, it can be easy to read whether or not the team is going to be a good fit for your student.

When meeting with the team, observe whether they appear genuinely interested in your student and ask them lots of questions. If the team seems excited about the possibility of your student joining their program, this is a great sign. However, if the team is quieter and looks like they’re “sizing up” your student as competition, this may be a red flag.

Your student will be around these people more than anyone else throughout their college experience, so it’s important to get to know them before signing day.

3. Are they prepared to compete with their teammates for play time?

Even if your student was recognized as one of the best players on their high school team, they aren’t guaranteed playing time in college.

Dr. Ramel “Kweku” Smith, PhD, LP,  University of Wisconsin Madison’s senior psychologist in clinical and sport psychology services, said that many student athletes deal with pressure to be the best on their teams.

“For most collegiate athletes, they’re leaving circumstances where they were ‘the person,’” Smith said. “And then to come into an environment where you’re one of many people, and maybe sometimes nowhere even near the best, then that can obviously create situations. But it’s a good pressure in some ways to always be the best.”

Ask your student if they love the sport enough to value winning and team success over playing time and enjoyment, especially if they're considering playing in a higher division.

“I wish I'd asked myself if I valued competition way over fun,” Charpentier said. “Because more often than not, it was not fun.”

4. How do you rate the athlete support resources and athletic facilities, such as the field/fieldhouse and weight room?

Your student athlete will spend a lot of time at the fieldhouse or field and the weight room. Therefore, it’s important that they can see themselves being happy in those places.

Consider the size of the field or fieldhouse, the floors or turf, the equipment, the bleachers and the scoreboards.

Check out the weight room and determine whether it’ll be big enough for team workouts or if it will be crowded. Ensure there is sufficient equipment that is safe and high-quality.

Is there a trainer who treats injuries? Is there a strength and conditioning coach who programs workouts for athletes? Dr. Smith said that also having a sports psychologist on campus is important in achieving mind and body parity.

5. Will your student be happy with the campus beyond the athletic facilities?

From small liberal arts colleges to big state research universities, campuses vary widely. Before you visit an individual school, research its layout and surroundings. Consider the school’s location in relation to your home town if your student has family, friends or community ties that they want to stay close to.

If the college or university is located in a rural area, make sure your student is okay with not having many restaurants or stores nearby. You may also want to research the safety of the surrounding area.

As you walk from place to place during a college tour, try to see it through your student's eyes and evaluate whether the campus would work for them long term. Be critical of things that could possibly cause issues and ask your student how they feel about the size and environment of the school.

More about why location matters when choosing a college >

6. Will your student struggle with their mental health?

The mental health of college athletes is often overlooked. In some cases, it becomes difficult for student athletes to adjust to the college lifestyle and manage their time effectively. In other cases, pre-existing conditions begin to affect a student athlete’s performance.

Dr. Smith said that the most common issue student athletes come to him about is anxiety.

“Anxiety is a fear of the future,” Smith said. “So specifically for athletes, ‘how am I going to perform for this conference coming up, for this practice coming up?’ Those types of fears.”

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), approximately 30% of women and 25% of men who are student athletes report having anxiety. However, there are resources available to athletes to help them through their college experience, such as tutors and sports psychologists.

Additional resources for supporting your student's mental health >

7. Will the academic program provide everything your student needs to be successful after graduation?

According to the NCAA, fewer than two percent of NCAA student athletes go on to be professional athletes. This means that the vast majority of student athletes depend on their education to prepare them for life after college.

Don’t overlook the academic profile of the college or university your student is considering. Does the school offer a program of study your student wants to pursue? If so, make sure that the major they select will be beneficial to them when it comes time to look for a job after graduation.

Look at the course catalog with your student to see what classes are offered in their major of choice. Sit in on a class or two and if possible meet with professors.

Also inquire about extracurricular, job and internship opportunities wherever possible. Think about the things beyond the sports program that will make your student successful after graduation.

It's easy to make the mistake of prioritizing a school's sports program over the university's other features. However, asking the seven questions above will help your student athlete make the right college decision and prevent them from experiencing regret later on.

Lexi Langendorf is a senior at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh majoring in Multimedia Journalism and minoring in Law and Policy. She was an editor and writer for the Advance-Titan student newspaper. As a former collegiate women’s volleyball player, Lexi is passionate about sharing insights on the exciting yet challenging journey of becoming a college athlete.
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