If you are sending an athlete to college next year you will need to know more than the basics of freshman life.

Being a new college student is a joy and a challenge and being a college athlete comes with more of both. Here is some hard-earned wisdom from the parents of varsity and club athletes from all over the country.

1. Prepare yourself for the fact that your student will be home a lot less than their non-athlete classmates.

Fall athletes leave for school earlier in the summer, winter athletes have an abbreviated holiday break and spring athletes often have no second-semester break at all. Prepare yourself to visit your kid more, because they will visit you less. While as a parent this can feel a little heartbreaking, when you see just how much your team loves their team it’s a wonderful thing. The good news, as well, is that it is not 1991, and if you can’t make it to the games on campus, you may be able to watch them online.

2. Make sure your teen stays fit and undertakes the fitness program their coach sent over the summer.

At 18 it is easy to feel like a million dollars until you arrive at school in the fall and find out the hard work your teammates have done over the summer. After high school sports are over, self-motivation has to kick in and keep your kid working over the summer. It is great practice for the next four years.

3. Encourage your student to take advantages of the resources offered to their team.

This will vary from college to college but might include consulting with nutritionists, academic or career counseling or special athletic trainers.

4. There will always be a balancing act between athletics and academics, but remind them where their future lies.

Being a college athlete takes time for practices, games and travel. Some schools are deliberate about making sure that classes and practices do not conflict, other less so. If your student finds themselves running out of time or unable to take the classes they need, urge them to speak to their coach or the team’s academic advisor. Suggest to your teen that she deal with the time conflicts and demands long before there is a crisis. Unless your student is one of that tiny fraction of athletes that will go on to play professionally, school comes first. The big upside is that many athletes say that this college experience taught them great time management skills for later in life.

5. Club sports can be just the right solution.

For kids who love their sport but don’t want the overwhelming commitment of playing a varsity sport, club sports can be a perfect option. At many schools, the club teams have tryouts, coaches, and travel to other schools for competition. Players develop wonderful friendships, have a chance to experience leadership, and continue to enjoy the sport they love.

6. Don’t assume that joining a club sport is a done deal.

If your kid played on the varsity team in high school, usually a starter, maybe even one of the best players, the club team is a layup? Right? Maybe, but maybe not. At some schools the club teams can require little more than showing up, at others, there are highly competitive tryouts, lots of cuts, and graduate students who played D1 in college nab some of the spots. The training and game schedules can be demanding and some teams compete in national championships. Moral of the story? If you want to make the club team remember to practice over the summer.

7. For many students, D3 athletics combines the perfect balance between their education and athletics.

Be sure that your student has explored all the possibilities of being a college athlete before they decide how they want to pursue their sport.

8. Pick the school, not the team or the coach.

One of my sons was recruited to a college that he ended not attending, despite truly wanting to play for the coach, because he felt the school was not the best fit. During the summer between high school and college, the coach left! The number one compelling reason for playing at the school walked out the door before my son would have walked in. Kids (God forbid) get injured, they quit teams, they lose interest and for a myriad of reasons, just cannot continue with their sport. Ask your student if they couldn’t play would they still select that college? Make sure, first and foremost, that the school is the right academic fit.

9. Even with loving the team and respecting the coach your kid has to LOVE their sport.

College sports are demanding and the only way to make the physical, mental and time sacrifices is if your kid loves to play. If you find that they are losing interest or like it but don’t really love it, talk about whether making that kind of commitment in college is a wise idea. Every year lots of college athletes quit their sport and one of the sources of their problem is that they just didn’t love it enough.

10. Varsity athletics is a nine or even ten-month a year commitment.

It is easy to think of a sport in terms of the main season it is played, but that would be a mistake. At many schools, teams practice in the off-season, engage in community service, have weightlifting and study hall, play non- league games, tournaments, or a modified season.

Many teams practice or play six days a week. Players may be encouraged to play in summer leagues or keep to a rigorous fitness schedule at home. Before jumping in with two feet, students should get a real sense of the scope of the commitment they are making.

About Grown & Flown

Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, the cofounders of Grown & Flown, are writers, moms, and friends. They created Grown and Flown when each of their youngest kids were in high school and their oldest kids were in college. It has become the #1 site for parents with teens and college students, reaching millions of parents every month. They are also co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults. (Flatiron, 2019). See their book.

In their past incarnations, Mary Dell worked in television and media, and Lisa had a career that included Wall Street, politics, and writing. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author of three books, including Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success. Lisa, a California native, graduated from UC San Diego and MIT. Mary Dell is a graduate of the UT Austin and Harvard Business School. Visit the Grown & Flown website.