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Do You Think My 8 Year-Old Will Be Good Enough To Get a Scholarship?

Do You Think My 8 Year-Old Will Be Good Enough To Get A College Swimming Scholarship?

by Ryan Woodruff

Years ago, a parent on my team asked me this question. Her daughter was 8, had just joined our team, and was a very novice-level swimmer, even for her age. At the time, I was dumbfounded. I think my response at the time was something along the lines of “You gotta be kidding me. That’s so far off that it is way too early to think about.” Perhaps not surprisingly, that swimmer left our team after that season. I have no idea what happened to her or if she ever got that college scholarship her mom coveted.

To be clear, it is natural for the thought of college to have crossed the swim parent's mind. But here are my thoughts on a far-off college scholarship opportunity and the more nuanced way that I would answer this parent's question if it was asked again.

  1. I cannot predict how fast she will be 10 years from now.  It all depends on how much she falls in love with swimming, how hard she works, how willing she is to learn, how resilient she is in the face of disappointment, and how much support she gets from those around her.  Her current times are very poor predictors of how fast she will be in 10 years.
  2. College scholarships are not as plentiful as you might think. Most college swimming programs have less than half as many scholarships as they have swimmers (scholarships are limited by NCAA rule). Individual schools may have fewer and schools in lower divisions or in certain conferences might not offer ANY.
  3. Getting a college scholarship to swim is certainly a worthy goal, but for an 8 year-old there are so many wonderful experiences to have and learn from between now and then. There is learning about her physical limits, setting a goal and working hard to achieve it, dealing with failure, dealing with success, being a good teammate, improving technique, time management, and SO MUCH more. There may be a small percentage of swimmers who achieve a college scholarship, but EVERY swimmer who comes through our program has the opportunity to learn skills that will last a lifetime and be invaluable.
  4. A scholarship is an extrinsic motivator, and extrinsic motivation is notoriously ephemeral. To help your swimmer become the best she can be, we are wise to emphasize intrinsic motivation — i.e. striving for the satisfaction that comes with knowing she did her best, the joy of learning a new skill, or the thrill of achieving a hard-earned goal.  This kind of motivation is self-driving and will stoke a swimmer’s inner fire for years to come.
  5. She needs to be striving for her OWN goals, not yours. You and her coaches can help shape her thought process in this regard, but ultimately she must take ownership. Asking an 8 year-old (or even a 14-year old for that matter) to take on that mantle is placing a heavy burden on her shoulders.
  6. Swimming costs money, and if you are looking only at the bottom line, the odds are not in your favor. There will be team dues, suits to buy, and hotels for many swim meets. Don’t get me wrong, the costs of participation are absolutely worth it if you value the lessons your swimmer will learn, the relationships she will form, and the experiences she will have. But if your focus from day one is a scholarship, you aren’t reading your actuarial tables correctly.

Parents — it is totally o.k. to have thoughts about your swimmer achieving a college scholarship. If your swimmer is in high school and is doing very well, it is certainly a possibility. Our team has a solid track record of sending swimmers to compete at great institutions around the country. For the time being, I encourage you to focus on supporting your swimmer in the here and now.