Email of the Day: Problem Parents / Too Many Schools

These days it’s much more common than it used to be to find kids changing schools multiple times during their high school years. It’s something of an epidemic. I think it’s consistent with the overall mentality of immediate satisfaction in our society today, and it’s not good.

Here’s an email I wrote to some parents whose child must be close to some kind of record for number of schools attended (6 in 3 states), especially for a very good student.



For 30 years I’ve guided families through the prep school and college process. It’s my full time job. I get paid to do it. I help families in similar situations every year, and my guidance almost always pays for itself. In your case, I wish I could help, but I can’t.

I’ve watched the highlight videos and I’ve been doing some homework on your situation. The pieces are coming together.

You and your wife are friendly, highly educated people. I’ve always enjoyed the conversations you and I have had, but you completely lost your sense of reality on this topic a long time ago. On my website, there’s a section of blogs entitled “Otherwise likeable, intelligent people”. You’ve made the list. If it’s accurate (or even close) that your son has attended six different schools in three different states since he started high school, that’s a huge red flag. It’s so bad in so many ways, I almost don’t know where to start, but here’s where it ends. I’m going to tell you what you don’t want to hear. You’re a problem parent, and that’s holding your son back more than anything else in this equation.

Your son has scholarship level athleticism (although he doesn’t play the game that well). It’s realistic to think he could get a D2 or NAIA offer, and he still might. However, if his academic profile is as you described (3.4 GPA, 1700+ SAT), the much better choice, the smarter choice, is a very good D3 school (a UAA, a NESCAC or similar school) for the next four years. He’d get a great education, have a great basketball experience, and, finally, get some stability.

Given your history, I expect you will choose a JuCo for a year or two, then yet another school after that. I said at the beginning I’d like to help, but I can’t. I’d have to tell college coaches about your son’s history and that they’re asking for trouble if they take him (although they almost assuredly would know it without me telling them). They’d ask me why. I’d tell them the parents are a big problem. Then they’d ask me why I bothered contacting them in the first place, and they’d be right.

Sorry for being blunt. I’ll call you later to discuss.







Stat of the Day: Women’s Basketball Transfers

The transfer rate for women’s D1 basketball is up 33% over a ten year period.

In 2003 the rate was 6.8%. In 2013 it was 9.2%. Those numbers are still about 1/4 of the men’s numbers. As with many other parts of the game, the women’s game seems to be following the men’s.

Perhaps most interesting is that 6 of the top 10 rated girls in the 2013 recruiting class have transferred. A number of those 6 committed to colleges as sophomores (also similar to the boys) and some say they now realize that what they considered a dream school as high school sophomores is much different than where they want to be playing as 20 year olds. This is a pretty strong case that kids (and parents) are picking a college at too young an age.




Quote of the Day – Who Makes the School Choice?

I think you should treat kids like grown-ups. I think you should expect them to be mature and to behave, and I think that’s what it means to treat someone like a grown-up, although….It’s not about the abdication of authority.

 …it’s common now in this country to find … the parent functions as educational consultant. The parent makes a recommendation, but the child makes the final decision. I know of cases where the kid was clearly making the wrong decision and the parents knew it but nevertheless felt completely powerless to overrule their child. The child is the one who suffers.

Dr. Leonard Sax, speaking about his new book The Collapse of Parenting and about where today’s parents are making mistakes.


PG Injury Concern

Many considering a PG year believe that the risk of significant injury is a major argument against a PG year. That’s understandable, especially for those who hold full scholarship offers. Injuries get everyone’s attention. They’re very visceral, and that makes them hard to ignore, but there are two reasons to do just that. Here’s why injury concern should not be a significant factor when deciding on a PG year.


1)  Injuries are not the problem they used to be.

  • Medical science has changed.  It’s not like it was when today’s parents were kids. The days of career ending injuries are mostly over. Even a blown-out knee is no longer career ending. Athletes have surgery and are back on the field sooner and sooner. Consequently, college coaches are not scared off by that type of thing like they might have been in the past.
  • Prep schools can overcome significant injuries. The right prep school has the clout and the right coach has the recruiting experience and connections to get scholarships for kids who miss all or most of an entire season.

Two years ago Andy had no offers out of high school. He went to a prep school with a very good program but missed the entire season due to injury. Nonetheless, he ended up receiving a full ride to a good D2 school that also offered a much better education than he would have otherwise received. While not his D1 dream, that’s still more than he had out of high school. Some years before Andy, Harry was in a similar situation. He, too, had no offers out of high school. He played the first two games of the year before stepping on someone’s foot and spending the next two months in a cast. He still had his choice of three mid-level D1 offers.

Part of the reason these players were able to overcome their injuries is that a PG year offers more than just another school season. It also offers another summer recruiting period. Like it or not, these days that’s just as important. By playing well in the summer before they ever got to school they helped insure they would get the offers they so badly wanted.

2)  There are other risks, with a much greater chance of happening, that need to be managed, but are being ignored. These are what should influence the thinking of families.

  • Transfers are a virtual epidemic these days. A shocking percentage of kids are not finishing at the school they started at. Despite the spin you hear on it, that’s not good. Nobody commits to a school with the expectation of transferring (except those hoping to transfer up. That’s a whole different mistake for another blog.). The right PG decision reduces this possibility.
  • Not getting playing time. This has always been part of the equation, and it always will be. A certain percentage of kids will always sit. It’s the nature of a competitive team. Some will never play. Some will play after a year or two. A PG year reduces the chance of both options significantly.
  • Some athletes will fail or struggle academically in school. People think this applies only to students who were weak students when they entered college, but it also happens to good students, especially those attending the elite educational universities. People don’t understand the time and commitment demands of scholarship level sports. Consequently they fail to anticipate the strain that puts on classwork. There is no such thing as too much preparation, even for the very best students. A PG year provides that preparation.

The concern of injury is a little like those who are afraid of flying. While the statistics say flying is much safer than other methods of travel, some people simply can’t get the fear of flying out of their minds. Fight the urge to let to let fear of injury make your decision about a PG year. It’s a bad thought process.

There are no guarantees in this world, although it’s human nature to want them. If you’re starting with the thought that any scenario, such as having an offer in hand, means you’ve got a guarantee, you’re starting from the wrong perspective. Families need to understand this and act accordingly.

It would be unfair to say there’s no injury risk in a PG year. There is, but it’s not the risk most think it is, the chances are too small to pay attention to, and there are other risks that you’re not addressing that should be of greater concern. These are what should dictate your decision.




The Two Biggest Overlooked Benefits of Prep School

The education and the athletic program are the two things virtually every family focuses on when considering prep school for their student-athlete. Most families can’t even process all the information in those two categories, so it’s no surprise that they overlook two other really big benefits when considering the value of prep school.


1)  Connections

Why do you think some families are readily willing to pay $55,000 for one year of prep school? It isn’t just the great education, or the great athletics. It’s the contacts, the connections. The kids your child is going to meet, the ones who will become lifetime friends, are the ones who are going to be running this country 20 years from now. If you believe it’s as much who you know as what you know, it’s hard to overvalue this benefit.


2)  College is taking more than four years

Many families aren’t sure they want to invest money in prep school, especially since they know they are likely to be spending money on college, money they may not have. Here’s what they fail to account for: college students aren’t finishing college in four years like their parents’ generation did. A remarkably high percentage (approximately 44% overall, and a startling 64% at public institutions) of students are not finishing college in what used to be considered the “normal” time frame.

Closely tied to those statistics is another, even bigger, one: college debt has become arguably the most important financial problem in the US today. A good chunk of that is a result of students taking more than four years to finish, or worse, not finishing at all.

For many students the issue is going to college before they’re ready. Many students, even some with very good transcripts, are now taking a gap year before college for that reason.

Finding yourself in college is tricky. Once you get off track, it’s hard to get back on. Colleges aren’t set up for you to find yourself. They’re set up to weed you out and take your money. Switching majors gets expensive in a hurry.

A post-graduate year is just the opposite. It’s designed to help the student discover more of him or herself. Consequently, it is much more effective and efficient at doing so, leading to a much lower risk.

Once families come to grips with these facts, especially the realization that there’s a good chance they’re likely to spend the additional money anyway, it is much easier to see that money is often much better spent on a PG year than on additional years in college.




PG Year – Wasted Time and Money?

Cameron had a good senior year playing for a low profile high school and received only D3 offers. She and her parents decided to invest their time and money in a post-graduate year, believing she had the potential to get scholarship offers.

By all accounts, Cameron played very well in her PG year. At the end of the season she took two official visits to NCAA D2 schools, but did not receive a scholarship offer from either. She was also offered a preferred walk-on spot at two mid-level D1 schools, one of which she accepted.

Many would look at this situation and say the decision to attend prep school was a bad one, a waste of time and money. While Cameron and her parents certainly had some disappointment, a closer look reveals a very good decision.

  • Cost: This is often a big part of a PG year decision, and understandably so. Cameron’s family invested about $15,000 and got no scholarship to show for it. What they did get is an extra $12,000 per year in college financial aid. That’s what the school they chose offered compared to offers from similar schools that did not recruit her for basketball. That’s a payback of three times what they invested. That alone makes the PG year an easy justification and a great choice.
  • Lower basketball risk: Cameron could have walked-on at a D1 school after HS, but the risks would have been much greater. She would not have been a preferred walk-on, so she might not have even made the team. She’d only have about a week to prove herself. As a preferred walk-on she is virtually assured a spot on the team. She’s also a better player than she was a year ago. The D2 offers are objective proof of that. Those offers prove it’s not unreasonable to think she can play at the D1 level, and possibly earn a scholarship. (It’s hard to overstate the value of that information in today’s sports world, where so many kids and parents struggle to accurately assess the athlete’s talent level). The PG year closed the talent gap, while reducing the risk once she gets there.
  • Lower academic risk: A below average student, by all accounts she needed an extra year to figure out how to get her inherent intelligence to show up in her school work. As it turned out, she did just that. A different learning environment, in addition to being away from home, allowed her to achieve better grades than she did in high school. She’s now better prepared to handle the tougher course work in college. It also boosted her confidence in the classroom, which will increase her chances of success in college.
  • Lower overall risk: Most families don’t understand the time and other demands of playing a sport at the D1 level. Combined with the more difficult classroom work, the athlete’s maturity is tested immediately and often. College has also changed since today’s parents attended. A much larger percentage of students are not graduating, or are taking more than four years to do it. Certainly the financial risks are greater. College debt is arguably the largest financial problem in the country today. Cameron’s transitional year of prep school did exactly what a PG year is supposed to do. It gave her the opportunity to mature as a person while reducing all of these risks.

No, Cameron didn’t get a scholarship – yet, but the PG year was subtly a very good intermediate step towards overall success. It allowed her to keep the dream alive and saved her family over $30,000, while getting all the other educational and maturity benefits and minimizing the risks. They would tell you it was still an excellent choice.




Scholarship Quantities

Many parents, especially those who are new to the world of college sports at the scholarship level, are under the misconception that receiving a scholarship for any sport at the NCAA D1 level means receiving a full scholarship. That is not accurate and it tends to be a real eye-opener, particularly to parents of baseball, hockey and lacrosse players.

Scholarship money is driven by revenue, and football and basketball are the only sports with TV contracts and attendance significant enough that they are considered to be revenue producing. Consequently, in men’s sports football and basketball are, by NCAA rule, the only ones that can offer full scholarships to each member of the team. For women, it’s a little different because they don’t play football. Like the men, they offer full scholarships for basketball (in fact, they get two more than men, 15 vs 13). Title IX requires schools to compensate for football scholarships by offering women more scholarships in a variety of other sports, including some not offered to men. This can result in certain entire women’s teams having full scholarships.



The Patriot League / Ivy League Misconception

The Patriot League and Ivy League have been linked together in many minds since the inception of the Patriot League about 25 years ago. There are three good reasons for this. One, the Patriot League was conceived, in part, to provide another league similar to the Ivy. Two, they are perceived as the two best academic D1 leagues in the country. Three, for a while they were the only two leagues in Division 1 that didn’t offer athletic scholarships. Ivy’s have never offered athletic scholarships. The Patriot League started out as a non-scholarship league, but that changed some time ago.

For some reason people, even those who should know better, still talk about Patriot and Ivy League schools as competing at the lowest level of D1 sports. They mention them as possible options for athletes who don’t have scholarship offers or are perceived to be marginal D1 athletes. This is particularly true in the revenue producing sports of football and basketball. Statements such as “well, he/she might be good enough to play at a Patriot or an Ivy” are still heard regularly. It’s an old perception that hasn’t been accurate for quite a while.

Here are two of the erroneous assumptions that lead to the misconception, followed by the reasons they are false.

  1. Schools can’t attract scholarship level athletes without scholarships
    1. Ivy League teams regularly get players who have scholarship offers. That’s right. Ivy schools beat scholarship schools for players every year.
      1. Extraordinary financial aid combined with the best educational opportunities makes the difference. Lots of schools offer scholarships. There are only a handful of Patriot and Ivy League schools.
        1. Families with a household income under $100,000 can expect to pay little or nothing for an Ivy League education.
      2. Their track record of success is so good they attract very talented athletes
    2. In the case of the non-revenue sports, these schools very often give more aid than scholarship schools. Think about how ironic that is. Why do you think they win titles in sports like lacrosse and hockey, and produce more than their share of Olympic athletes?
  2. The smartest kids generally aren’t the best athletes
    1. These schools are exceptional enough, and selective enough, that they attract student-athletes who excel in both categories

Here is just some of the evidence that Patriots and Ivys are anything but the lowest level D1 leagues.

  • The Princeton women’s basketball team is currently ranked 16th in the country
  • Both leagues are ranked comfortably in the middle of D1.
    • In basketball there are currently 15 leagues ranked lower than either the Ivy or Patriot. Those leagues include many perceived to be “better” such as the MAAC, Colonial, Conference USA, Northeast and Ohio Valley.
  • Both leagues have won more NCAA basketball tournament games than many of the leagues perceived to be at a higher level.
    • In recent years Cornell has played in the Sweet 16, while Bucknell, Lehigh and Harvard have had multiple wins as well
  • NCAA D1 basketball tournament seedings for Patriot and Ivy reflect their true level of play and talent. The leagues are getting a 12 or 13 seed, sometimes higher. That means there are about 10 – 15 leagues getting less respect from the committee.
  • Ivy and Patriot leagues have produced more professional draft picks and players over the last two decades than many of the leagues people perceive to play at a higher level.
    • In 2013 alone the Patriot League had a 1st and 2nd round NBA pick
      • Previous years produced lottery picks such 13 year NBA veteran Adonal Foyle
  • After the 2014 season two all-Ivy players transferred to other leagues. (They were out of Ivy eligibility). Both had multiple offers from big time conferences. One accepted a scholarship to Pitt (ACC), the other to UConn (AAC).

Parents and players are the ones losing out due to this lack of awareness. Too many dismiss these schools without even considering them, when choosing them should be an easy decision. When the facts are known, it’s shocking how many people pass up these educational opportunities without giving it a second thought.




Should I Walk-On or Do a Post-Graduate Year?

In some way, walking-on inspires a sense of security. It allows athletes put their belief in the connection they have with a particular school, even in the absence of a scholarship. I spoke on the phone with a father not long ago about the possibility of his child doing a post-graduate (PG) year instead of walking-on. The father had no awareness or understanding of prep schools and the child had all the earmarks of an excellent PG candidate. The child’s senior season was over and so was the majority of the recruiting for the sport. They had not received any scholarship offers and were planning on walking-on at a local D1 school.

Confidence is a huge part of walking-on. The athlete has to believe in himself/herself even though no scholarship schools believed in the athlete’s talent enough to offer a scholarship. Confidence and optimism are essential, but there’s no need to substitute them for a lack of logic. Many athletes make the confident statement that they’re sure they’ll earn a scholarship as walk-ons. All they need, they insist, is the chance to prove themselves. In fact, those who make that statement aren’t as confident as they think. They are putting too much value in that sense of security inspired by the walk-on situation. Athletes who truly believe in themselves and their talent don’t settle for walking-on. They believe that given the chance at prep school they will earn more and better offers and aren’t willing to restrict themselves to one scholarship chance. Furthermore, if you assume the statement of confidence is true, that the athlete will earn a scholarship after walking-on, it’s all the more reason to go to prep school and not walk-on. Think about it. If the player really is a scholarship level talent, a PG year would have been virtually risk-free and would have yielded many and better options.

Here’s a comparison of the two options.


Walking-On = One Chance

  • Only one chance at a scholarship. If you choose to walk-on, all your eggs are in one basket. There’s only one school looking at you, so you have only one chance at a scholarship. Some say “There’s no risk. I’m sure I’ll earn a scholarship”. The statistics say otherwise.
  • You may not get a scholarship. Then there are three options and none is particularly good. One, keep playing, but pay for all four years. Two, transfer. Three, stop playing the sport you love.
  • May use up a year of eligibility. You only get four. When was the last time you heard an athlete say I wish my career hadn’t been so long or so successful.
  • Cost. Usually about the same as a PG year at prep school


PG Year = Multiple Options

  • Chance at multiple scholarship offers. You will have many schools looking at you. Your odds increase dramatically, so does the chance of finding the right fit. The more choices, the better fit and chance of success.
  • No loss of eligibility. You still have four years of college eligibility after a PG year.
  • An extra year of education. In today’s world, you can’t have too much education. By doing a PG year you get another year in addition to the four college years. That means improved learning skills and probable college level credits. If you do earn a scholarship, the fourth year of it will likely pay for the first year of graduate school.
  • Greater chance of earning playing time early and throughout college career. This is true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the average age of college freshman is a lot higher than most people realize.
  • Get to a higher level of play. PGs get recruited at a higher level than high school seniors. If, in fact, you were capable of earning a scholarship as a walk-on that same level of talent would earn you a scholarship at a higher level school after a PG year.
  • No need to transfer. It’s one thing to move on after a PG year. It’s entirely different to transfer after your freshman year of college if you don’t get a scholarship. Yes, a PG year is still a change, but you knew it was going to happen and it’s much less traumatic than transferring from a four year college.
  • Better chance of finding a school that’s the right fit. The more developed you are as a player and person, the better the chances of finding the right fit. In addition, the more school choices you have the better the chance of finding the right fit.
  • Cost. Roughly the same as what a walk-on year of college would cost. Some people will say that if you don’t get a scholarship you’ve added the cost of an extra year to your overall college cost. Not necessarily. First, non-scholarship athletes often end up getting a better financial aid package than they would have before the PG year. That increased financial aid can offset the cost of the PG year. Second, you can take college level courses as a PG, making it effectively the same thing as being a college freshman.


There’s simply no question that a PG year makes more sense than walking-on. In the example above, part of the problem was the family refused to even listen to what prep school has to offer. Be willing to listen before making a decision. You can always say no. Smart people get the facts first.




Playing Out of Position? Don’t Blame the Coach.

More than a few parents and athletes are frustrated by the position the athlete plays for his/her school. They wish they were on a team where the child could play a different position they believe would maximize the players’ talent, development and potential. It’s true at all levels, particularly high school, where most attend the school in their neighborhood.

They often blame the coach, claiming the athlete needs the chance to play the different position in order to develop the skills. But it’s rarely the coach’s fault. Most of the time the athlete is being played at the position because it best matches the athlete’s skill set and the coach’s first responsibility is to field the best team. If the goal is to play a different position the answer is surprisingly simple. You’ve got to give the coach a chance to play your child at the new position. You’ve got to have the skills. If you do, the coach will almost always find a way to play the athlete there, at least some of the time.

The common mistake is thinking that learning the skills will take place in games during the season. If the player doesn’t have the skills, the team isn’t going to sacrifice while the athlete learns, and make mistakes, during the a game. This type of significant learning has to take place during the offseason. It has always been hard, because it takes dedication and sacrifice. It’s even harder now that it seems there is almost no offseason. Still, this is when the athlete has to make it happen. In fact, it’s actually a great opportunity. So few players work on skills and fundamentals these days that those who do stand out more than they used to. Think about that. All athletes are looking for an edge. Here’s a way to improve and get an edge in a very simple way.