Youths need to keep sports in perspective

Howard At Play

December 14, 2003|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

NOT TO beat a dead horse, but when readers write, we try to pay attention. The best newspaper stuff, you see, comes out of conversation, not lecturing.

So, first, please don't read more into last week's column on the slim odds of any young athlete from Howard County getting a college scholarship than was in roughly this amount of space. We still love sports and young athletes (many of them, anyway) and those men and women who devote hours of love and care to coaching them and running their organizations.

Competing is worthwhile for just about everyone, regardless of the defects and excesses that sometimes surface. It is all a matter of emphasis and perspective, imparting a little of which was our intent last week.

A reader's view

Now, here's something from a reader, who for some reason opted for anonymity, which - for the record - virtually guarantees that we newspaper folk won't pay attention. But this particular comment was generic enough, so we pass it along:

Fish around the NCAA's Web site,, and you'll find a chart called "Estimated Probability of Competing in Athletics Beyond the High School Interscholastic Level."

If you thought Donald Disney, the county's chief high school sports administrator, was blowing smoke in last week's column, just compare what he said on the local level to the numbers you'll find there.

For example, of all the male participants in high school basketball nationally - the NCAA estimates there are 549,500, 157,000 of them high school seniors - only 2.9 percent will ever play on a college team, at any level. Nationally, college men's teams will have about 4,500 positions open for freshmen.

For female basketball players, the percentage is a bit higher: 3.1 percent, out of 456,900 total girls in high school programs, 130,500 of them seniors.

More samples, all of which carry the NCAA's admonition, "These percentages are based on estimated data and should be considered approximations of the actual percentages:"

Of 321,400 male soccer players, 91,800 of them seniors in high school, about 5.7 percent will make it to a college team. About 1.9 percent will advance from college to the pros. About .08 percent will get to the pros out of high school.

Of 983,600 high school football players, 281,000 of them seniors, about 5.8 percent will find a spot on a college team.

Of 455,300 high school baseball players, 130,100 of them seniors, about 5.6 percent will make a college team. If we believe the NCAA, incidentally, about 10.5 percent of college players in that sport will get a crack at pro ball. The figure for high school players making the pros is about half of 1 percent.

Focus on classroom

You're getting the idea, yes? As we quoted Disney a week ago, it is far better that you, dear parents, make sure your young athlete is focused just as sharply on the classroom as on the ballfield or gym. Which, we hasten to add, is an objective that a great many youth sports groups locally try to achieve. More than a few check reports cards regularly, and low performers may find their playing time reduced.

Now, with that reality in mind, why keep a kid in sports? There are lots of reasons, and frankly, all you have to do is ask anyone who played any sport as a kid with some measure of success into, say, middle school, and you'll probably get one of the answers, which may strike you as cliche.

Cliches, however, become cliches because they usually carry an element of truth.

Youth sports, besides developing a firsthand appreciation for the skills involved, whether one is terrific at them or not, teach fitness, teamwork, how to stick with something even when it is hard, getting along with teammates you don't particularly like and don't socialize with, setting goals, achieving them. With parental support and not browbeating, playing sports can enhance a child's discipline in life and time management.

Measuring success

Is it worth the extra money spent on travel ball, going to far-away tournaments, playing more games per season, playing multiple seasons, getting and maintaining good equipment, the pain of injury? It depends on the child, of course. But if the child enjoys the sport and can maintain a healthy perspective on winning and losing, sure, then it's worth it.

Every athlete loves to win; that's the obvious measurement of success in sports, but in no way the only one.

In this county, you'll find teen-age players deemed not good enough to make varsity in high school still playing soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis and golf. You'll find adults in every sport who never made a varsity team still plugging away.

They have the right perspective. Why they play is plain and simple: It's fun.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to

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