5 Dos and Don’ts of Parenting a College Student-Athlete
The transition from club or high school soccer to college soccer creates several challenges for student-athletes at the Division I, II and III levels. College student-athletes must adjust to more-structured environments, more frequent and rigorous training sessions, roommates, academic loads and living on their own for the first time. Athletic departments like ours across the country hold orientation programming for student-athletes to ease the adjustment to college life and start the student-athletes in a positive direction.
The difficult transition is not limited to student-athletes alone.
Parents of college student-athletes struggle with the transition from high school to college as much (if not more) than the student-athletes themselves.
Think about it. As a parent, you have driven thousands of miles, watched hundreds of games and listened to a million conversations about your kids’ games over the last umpteen years.
Youth sports pervaded all aspects of your personal life more than anything else.
Youth soccer is a commitment from the child and from the parents. Nights, weekends and vacations – all spent on youth soccer since your child played U6, especially when you parent an elite-level athlete.
The excitement that you feel about the journey your son or daughter will take over the next four years is perfectly normal, as is the anxiety you may feel.
Parenting a college student-athlete is vastly different than parenting your son or daughter in high school sports. The president of the university does not have the über involvement that the high school principal does, and the athletic director likely has a cast of assistant athletic directors that help to manage the sport programs.
Seeing parents of college freshmen adjust to their son or daughter playing in college for the last 20-plus years allows me to say take a deep breath, read this helpful guide and enjoy the ride.
Parenting a College Student-Athlete
- Be involved: Go to games at home and on the road. Have the team over for meals (within NCAA rules), especially for those student-athletes who don’t have a place to go on holidays.
- Be aware: Reach out to the coach if you think your son or daughter is struggling with transition issues. Every college student-athlete goes through time of being home sick and making adjustments but you should stay in touch with the coaches when you have concerns. We are here to educate and help mature the student-athletes.
- Trust your head, not your heart: If you think your son or daughter would be horrified if you called over an issue, YOU ARE RIGHT! Be open and honest with them and let them solve issues on their own.
- Be mindful of welfare: Always reach out to a coach or sport administrator if you suspect an issue of physical or mental abuse. Hazing is forbidden and handled very severely across the college landscape.
- Let them grow: Treat your son or daughter like an adult and allow him or her to learn from mistakes. Academics and athletics consume the student-athletes’ lives and it is our jobs to prepare them for the world, not shield them from it. Encourage your son or daughter to have difficult conversations without you and be a good listener after those conversations happen.
- Call over playing time: Ever. Never ever. Never ever ever ever never ever call the coach of the athletic director about playing time. Trust me when I tell you that playing time is earned every day in training and the coach will put the best players on the field that give the team the best chance to win.
- Call over discipline/punishment: Every student-athlete is treated the same, based on the nature of the offense and that student-athlete’s disciplinary history. We have a student-athlete Code of Conduct that binds everyone to the same set of rules.
- Press send: You will experience times when your son or daughter’s frustration or anxiety give you equal or greater frustration or anxiety. Once you type a lengthy, impassioned email, close the computer and do not press send. You will avoid sending the best email that you will always regret.
- Use hearsay or comparisons: Every story contains at least two sides and chances are, you are not receiving the full information.
Self-report: Labeling yourself as a “helicopter parent” doesn’t give you the leeway to be one. You cannot justify it by adding, “It’s okay, I behaved the same way when she was in high school.”