Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
That’s just the reality of sports.
Many times, the difference between winning and losing is getting hot at the right time, executing in the clutch or just plain luck. I’ve seen a number of teams win games over the years on lucky bounces or plays just inside the boundaries.
In some sports, such as wrestling and swimming, it comes down to numbers. If you’re leaving a lot of open spots, it’s going to be difficult to win against a team which can fill every weight class or have kids on the blocks for every race.
In that case, all you can do is train as hard as possible and win as many points in the areas where you are represented.
What puts every good team into position to win is dedicated hard work and practice. I know that topic really isn’t discussed since all athletes and teams do what they have to do to be competitive. It’s been taken for granted that the kids work hard and the coaches plan out strategies. There really is no way to properly gauge training levels. All train hard and that never will be questioned.
That means a lot of early morning or late night practices, sharing facilities and sometimes getting that awkward spot in the practice schedules.
Athletes train within their sports and do outside training to prepare. Weight, agility and other areas have come a long way since kids started running with parachutes. In my day as a young athlete, we just played what sport was in season. There was little additional training. Weight training inside the wrestling season was discouraged. Training has come a long way since then.
There have been many other changes since my days as a prep athlete. We’ve seen specialization. Young athletes concentrate on one sport, or two at the most. The carrot at the end of the stick is college scholarship money.
I know families are looking for any way to help offset the cost for higher eduction. It’s not cheap to go to school these days. For many, there’s an extra cost to secure the athletic scholarships thanks to our friends at the NCAA.
In the old days, you might see a college coach at a high school game. I know in many sports, travel has been restricted for such scouting. For example, in volleyball, it’s much easier for coaches to go scout a national qualifier, where they can see dozens of players at different age levels who might be on their recruiting lists.
That means athletes who want to be recruited need to affiliate themselves not only with club programs, but high-level club teams that will travel to these events.
In many cases, a family will end up spending more for club sports than will eventually be paid back in college scholarship money.
Some young athletes train so hard that they burn out short of that college goal and playing sports no longer matters.
There are ways for those who don’t play club sports to get college scholarships, but they are to smaller schools and community colleges much of the time.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve been a big proponent of taking the community college route to a four-year degree. Nowhere on a degree from a prestigious four-year school is there something denoting the student only went there for two years.
I’ve got advice for young athletes and families:
• Work and train hard. These traits will help you when you get into the “real” world where you’re competing for jobs. Those who do a professional job always will succeed.
• Have fun while you’re playing sports. While you’re learning important traits that will help you, remember that you’re playing a game.
• Don’t get down. There are winners and losers in each contest and most times in team sports the outcome is beyond your personal control. That means you’re going to lose. If you learn the lessons of a loss to become a better athlete, and eventually a better person, it’s not an empty defeat.
• Athletic scholarships aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be. If you want to play college sports, there always will be opportunities, even if it’s as a walk-on. Be careful in what scholarships you accept. I’ve seen private schools offer lots of money, but it’s only a drop in the bucket to go there. Consider what you want to go into after college and work toward a major in that field. If a school is offering a scholarship to play sports, make sure they have something in your field.
• Get started early if you want to play in college. It seems that the big schools are recruiting younger and younger all the time. It’s still a good rule of thumb for high school sophomores to really start looking. A college search can be a family endeavor, but it’s always better if the initial contact comes directly from the prospective athlete.
Those are a few tips I can think of while under deadline. I know there are others. If you follow these guidelines, you should have a better time as a prep athlete.
If it hasn’t been stated before in these pages, we respect the hard work put in by the teams, athletes and coaches we cover. We always have and always will.