Not all programs that promise to help young athletes realize their future pro potential are legit.
Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a friend about her young son getting involved in sports. I’m a big fan of her approach: put him in a sport he likes, let him enjoy playing on his own terms and dictate whether he wants to keep playing it or try something else.
I think now, more than ever, that’s a good look. There are tons of people out there who have no problem taking advantage of kids and parents to make money for themselves. This outside pressure creates burning holes in your wallet, can make the kids feel trapped in a cycle they want no part of and ultimately doesn’t live up to promises floated during the recruiting process. You really have to be careful not to get caught up in manufactured hype — which is why letting your kid determine their own future instead of you getting overzealous with it is going to ensure everyone involved has a much smoother experience than they otherwise could have.
I don’t know that there’s a parent alive who wouldn’t want to know that their kid or kids are going to be superstar athletes one day. But, it’s a problem when people looking to make a buck will throw that status at anyone out there, whether they really are head and shoulders above their teammates or just a little more fundamentally sound than most. So they’ll tell you your kid has great potential and can get there with help from their program, which you have to pay to put the kid in. When you want nothing but the best for your kids, that’s a pretty attractive hook to bite. What they don’t tell you is how often these extracurricular clubs and teams fall apart, for one reason or another, in a short time and then the coach or coaches are on to the next one. It’s not always malicious, but it can be.
Of course, there really are good coaches and programs out there that can help your kid succeed and get ready for high school sports, where they’ll almost always get their best chance yet to shine. Here’s what you should look for when someone wants your kid to play in their program for a nominal fee.
Check on their reputation, but don’t take their own word for it. You probably know someone who’s been involved with the program, or at least know someone who knows someone who has been. Start there and dig up as much as you can about the program and the people who run it. Google is your friend, too. There are some great people out there who just happen to field programs with short lifespans, and there are some that get lucky enough to have long-running operations going. If you feel comfortable with the people and programs offering to help your kids succeed, I can’t blame you for going for it.
A truth about many recruiting camps and other events, even some run by well-known shoe and apparel companies I won’t name here, is that they’re not all as exclusive as some folks will make them out to be. Sometimes kids get letters in the mail “inviting” them to take part in these events and they can look pretty official, almost like someone noticed how well they’ve been playing and wanted to give them a sweet deal. If you’re like me and you call to learn more about the event before you do (in my case, write) anything, you learn straight from the source that anyone can sign up for these camps for a fee and that these invites aren’t really a big deal so much as they are a marketing tool to get more warm bodies out there. There are ultra-exclusive events out there and if you ask them, they’ll straight up tell you not just anyone can participate. Though it doesn’t always hurt to attend a camp or event, just do your research to make sure you’re not being misled in any way.
Check the schedules and see what the competition looks like. Some sports are set up to where pretty much all of the clubs will compete under the same umbrella for one state or national championship, which is great. Others (baseball, I’m looking at you) are littered with “state championships” that don’t always mean as much as folks like to let on because the competition pools are tiny in comparison to others. Make sure the league or leagues a program’s involved with are the real deal.
Above all else, before you pull the trigger, make sure it’s something your kids truly want to do. Don’t force them to live out your dreams on your terms or it won’t end well, no matter what anyone tells you. If all parties involved can agree it’s a good move, it’s a good move.
Fortunately, for those of you living out here in Plant City, there are plenty of legit, reputable extracurriculars nearby to choose from in many sports. It never hurts to be careful, though.