Choosing a high school for education and athletics.

Four times in the last few days I have been asked about local school systems and in three of these instances there was an athletic angle to the questions being asked. This brought back memories from several years ago when the family of a young man was attempting to decide which of three schools he would attend.  The young man in question was a very skilled soccer player and representatives of each school put their best foot forward. When the young man's mother asked me my opinion I never spoke of athletics. I asked her which school would provide her son with the best education.  This is the same counsel I have given for years.  When a high school senior is contemplating which college to attend I urge them to make a 40 year decision instead of a four year decision.  The education is more important than the athletics.

As my youngest son prepares to graduate from high school I find myself questioning this train of thought. I still believe the primary consideration should be education, but athletics play a very important role in the lives of young people and their families. As I spoke with the families of eighth graders who must choose which high school they will attend I considered my own sons high school athletic experiences and found myself offering similar advice as to those families selecting a club team to play for  - it's all about the coach.

If I had it to do over again, I would likely place my own sons in a different school system.  They did receive quality educations and were/are well prepared for college.  Their head soccer coaches in high school left a lot to be desired.  The negatives in their player / coach relationships made high school soccer more struggle than fun, at least on the varsity level.  It's not supposed to be like that. 

Sure, lots of life lessons were learned through experiences both positive and negative in their high school soccer careers, but I think if they were asked each son would say their overall experiences with high school soccer were less than satisfactory due mainly to the poor quality of player / coach relationships.

So it was that when asked about high school athletics these last few days I encouraged the families to investigate the coaches at each school under consideration.  This is something I had never before done. I encouraged them to give almost equal consideration to the coach their children would play for as to the quality of education each school would provide.

This is difficult counsel for me to provide in light of my stressing academics over athletics. I have always considered that very few youth soccer players will eventually make a living playing soccer. My reasoning has been to prioritize education.  I find myself reconsidering this train of thought.  After all, if high school soccer is the last organized soccer playing experience shouldn't it be the best experience possible?  Even if a student athlete is fortunate enough to go on to college to play it will never be the same as their high school experience.

So it is, I have changed my mind based largely on the experiences of my sons. While education will always come before athletics whenever possible who your child will play for and the quality of the player / coach relationship should also be given strong consideration. Playing high school athletics should be a fun experience not a stressful event the athlete is glad to be done and over with.  Choose wisely if you have the opportunity to select which school to attend and the coach you will play for.

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