I grew up playing soccer and basketball. I wasn't any good, though. I was lucky to get my own coach to notice me, so I definitely wasn't thinking about college recruiters. Well, a 9-year-old girl in Florida is the complete opposite of me.
Jaden Newman of Orlando became the youngest basketball player ever to be recruited by a Division I women's basketball program when the University of Miami sent her an official recruitment letter back in April. The 4-foot 7-inch phenom has been making a name for herself while dominating the court against boys three years older than her. Her skills have landed her on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
And Jaden isn't alone. More and more, news stories have emerged of college programs going after young athletes before they even start high school. The New York Times profiled a 14-year-old soccer player who already committed to playing at the University of Texas. Then 8th-grader Dylan Moses landed the cover of ESPN The Magazine after receiving scholarship offers from many of the top NCAA football programs in the country. Jaden's 12-year-old brother, Julian, has also made a few headlines of his own.
But, is 9 years old too young for colleges to contact potential players?
While the gut reaction may be, "Of course!", I'm in favor of the early recruitment. I understand the arguments "Let kids be kids" and "They don't need the extra pressure," but I believe the attention offers encouragement more than pressure.
My older brother grew up playing baseball, and unlike me, he was pretty good. I remember going to games and hearing chatter of how professional scouts took notice of him as early as middle school. The encouragement that he could possibly have a future in the sport he loved made him work harder. And that was because HE loved it, not my parents and not his coaches. He was the one who wanted to pursue baseball.
Of course, like many things in life, responsibility falls on parents and coaches not to create extra pressure on young athletes. Kids should play sports because they love it, not to meet expectations. And if kids are growing up with goals of going to college (and not goals of just becoming rich and famous), please, let children get excited about scholarship offers -- especially girls. Women athletics don't get the same amount of money, sponsorships, press coverage, respect, and attention as men's sports, so if the goal of earning a college scholarship encourages more girls to participate, is it a bad thing?
I absolutely believe that there should be strict guidelines about the frequency and the ways that colleges reach out to young athletes, but to me, being recruited is not about creating extra pressure if kids show early interest in sports. It's about creating a goal, a goal that could lead kids to an amazing opportunity. Now, parents, coaches, and universities need to make sure they're doing their part to ensure young athletes can maintain their passion for the sport without feeling the added pressure, too.
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Image: Image of happy friends on the grass with balls looking at camera via Shutterstock