Proper Balance Between Specialization and a Holistic Experience

The beauty is finding the right fit, the natural fit.

To be perfect, you have to feel perfect about yourself.

This quotation from NY Times best selling author Rick Riordan best describes my experience as a presenter and attendee at the Small Boarding Schools Association Conference in Florida last week. The sentiment mirrors the mantra by school leaders that fit matters – in all areas, including athletics.

In my presentation I asked school leaders: How can we guide the student-athlete towards the proper balance of specialization and the benefits of the holistic boarding school experience? The robust conversation included discussion about the need to be thoughtful about what’s best for students developmentally, academically, and socially. My experience suggests that diversification helps in the recruiting process and in the personal growth of an adolescent.

Discussion with my colleagues always has one key tenet: the welfare of the student remains at the forefront of the conversation with the clear understanding that sports are often woven into the fabric of the life of a student. Many schools do a great job of helping students balance the demands faced by student-athletes by being deliberate with programming and expectations.

As one who has coached all levels of sports – from Special Olympians to World Cup; from 5th grade to Division I NCAA – I derive great joy from being involved with athletics and students as a consultant and mentor. The questions I wrestle with as a counselor are:

  1. Where do we strike a balance between perceived athletic success and the need to an academically strong candidate?
  2. What does “Plan B” look like if sports are no longer part of the college planning process through active recruitment due to injury, burnout or other factors?
  3. How often should we evaluate the athletic commitment of student-athletes against the academic, physical and social demands experienced by high school students?

I suggest that for each student-athlete, the answers to these questions are as individual as the student. As Rick Riordan also said, “Even strength must bow to wisdom sometimes.”

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