Remember who has the final decision

Mark Lewis

Mark Lewis writes for Hoop Gurlz… he writes exceptionally well.  Very insightful.  Would I consider him a writer?  Probably not.  No disrespect intended.  Mark’s a basketball coach.  In my mind’s eye I still see him on the sideline, or out on the road recruiting…. minus the camera.

So many times in the recruiting process parents try to re-live their sports lives (or lack there of) through their child’s… HUGE MISTAKE.  Mark’s insight is accurate and helpful.  Mark says, “I’m not a parent…”  I disagree.  Biology may not have played a part in Mark’s “parenting,” but he “parented” many during his 20+ year coaching career.

I’m a parent.  We have a daughter.  Both my wife and I went off to college.  I blew out my ankle twice.  If I didn’t pick the school because I wanted to be there no matter what happened on the basketball court – I would have been miserable.  My wife did transfer because she was miserable.  We had both sides of the story.  Mark is spot on.

I hope Mark is around and I remember his words in 2018 when our daughter is making her decision.

In… Remember who has the final decision, Mark shares a great perspective into the process of recruiting for parents.  Who actually has the final decision is really important.

Parenting is tough. That fact is evidenced every day by rebellious kids and surrendering parents who just throw up their arms in exasperation. The approaches to guiding, teaching, preparing and supporting are varied and as daunting a challenge as any adult will face.

Now add to that the twists, turns and decisions that come with the recruiting of a prospective student-athlete and you’ve got a volatile mix that can tip the fragile relationship between a teenager and her parents.

I must confess, I’m not a parent. In fact my single greatest contribution to society may well be that I’ve added no offspring of mine to the population. However, I have had a ringside seat to a multitude of recruiting decisions through the years that have revealed some startling child-parent dynamics.

A lot of athletes go through the recruiting process with their parents at their side and come up with the right decision that makes sense for her future in the classroom, on the court and personally. The tug of war begins when the agenda of mom and dad start to override that of their daughter.

It’s only natural that parents have important considerations in their daughter’s choice of school. More often than not, it’s distance from home and the parents’ desire to remain a more active part in their daughter’s life and college experience. I’ve met parents who had a hope that their child would choose a certain type of coach. Some wanted a man, some wanted a woman, some want black or white and others still had a concern about the coach’s lifestyle. Sometimes it was religion and others it was the history, tradition or success of the program.

In recruiting matters concerning their children, parents often have trouble keeping their own needs caged up.

All those are fine and certainly legitimate concerns … if they’re those of the athlete as well.

Several times this summer I heard coaching friends of mine remind me of one of the scariest sentiments you come across in recruiting. They told me that this recruit or that recruit was out of the picture because their parents “won’t let them go there.” We’re not talking about off-the-wall choices of schools or coaches recently paroled from federal prison. Reputable universities and programs with caring, professional staffs that the prospect had an interest in were not an option because mom or dad said so. End of story. One coach shared with me that a prominent prospect with many options was given a final four list of schools from which to choose after her father had narrowed it down to schools that met his standards, not hers.

I had almost forgotten how common that thought process is and how absolutely frightening it must be for the athlete. At times it’s been said that the first three major decisions you face on your own are where to go to school, what you want to go into professionally, and who you’ll spend your life with. While I’m not too sure it’s all that cut and dried, I do know that the athletes who head off to school knowing that it’s the school of their own choosing face the challenge of college life with a better much better and more positive perspective.

It’s understandable that parents want their concerns heard in the recruiting process but in the end they’re not the ones going to school. Wanting a daughter close to home so you can see more of her games and share more time together is fine only if that’s what she wants as well. I had one father tell me that he had “invested too much” to let her go away to school. She had offers nationwide and at the highest level but if they weren’t close enough for him they weren’t a consideration for her. In who or what was his investment?

Some parents address the distance factor by saying they can’t afford to travel to games or can’t afford to bring her home during breaks. At the same time, you have to ask yourself if you can afford to force your agenda on her if she wants to go away to school. Sometimes the price is high for tradeoffs in recruiting.

I’ve heard of parents who offer up the “it’s her decision” line accompanied by a heavy dose of subliminal guilt. They tell her, “It’s your choice, but if you go away we won’t be able to afford family vacations or that car we promised you won’t happen, the holidays without you will be tough. But we want you to be happy!” Gee, thanks for the autonomy.

Express your thoughts but don’t impose them. It’s OK to tell her what’s important to you in her decision and it’s important that she understand why you have those concerns. At the same time it’s important that she knows that she has ownership of her decision and can base her ultimate choice on the things that are important to her.

One of the most insightful fathers I came across offered up this thought as his daughter considered going to school clear across country rather than choosing a program in her backyard. “I’d like her to stay close to home, but even more I’d love for her to be happy.” Smart guy.


  1. Kimberly A. Callahan, CPS has just left a comment on your network update:

    “Good points, Jeff. I also see a similar issue when it comes choosing a major. I know parents are concerned about the career opportunities for certain degrees, but when they push them into an area they have little aptitude and/or interest in, they do their child no favors.”

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