As I watched new freshmen football players report to training camp, I shook my head and smiled about what they’re about to experience. They don’t even know what they don’t know. This is our son’s third time reporting to football training camp at the Ohio State. So we’ve seen it all. In our experience, one of the most challenging part about training camp and a new season as a freshmen is it’s often harder on the parents than their sons.
Playing at a top Division 1 program means your son’s teammates are also gifted All-Americans. While your son may have been the top guy in high school or in your state, when he enrolls into a top college program, he becomes one of many former top high school ballers. Student-Athletes oftentimes are able to adjust to their new realities and expectations overtime. But for some parents, the adjustment can be crushing. The biggest mistake a student-athlete parent can make is to make your son’s process about you rather than his growth and development, both as an athlete and as a man.
The following are three timeless facts every freshmen football parent should know and anticipate.
1. Your son will struggle
Whether academically, athletically or socially, your son will struggle his first year away from home and at college. You may say, “Well he knows better.” It has little to do with what he knows and more to do with managing expectations, adjusting to new routines and requirements and simply just finding his footing. This is not an indictment on you as a parent. It’s simply a natural progression. Seventeen, 18, 19 year old young men do have to progress, but they need the safe refuge of a loving family to grow and be successful on and off the field.
When you talk with your son, always listen first. Sometimes he just wants to be heard. When communicating with coaches and teammates, he’s often too new to the program and the process to feel completely comfortable in speaking out. So allow him to vent and simply talk to you without judgment or overreaction. So listen and be cool. Remember, it’s not about you. This is his life and his process.
Hold your son accountable to what is expected of him by the coaches and university, not as a coach but as a parent. Never speak negatively to your son about his position coach, head coach or the program. Talking negatively about your son’s position coach only ends up hurting your son. Disrespecting his coach to him is harmful and fruitless. It’s impossible for him to learn and grow under the tutelage of a coach he doesn’t respect. Let coaches coach. You just be the parent.
When freshmen year struggles come, and they will, don’t condemn, don’t judge, don’t try to fix. Instill words of encouragement and positive feedback and instructions. Then trust your son to make the best choices possible, knowing you have his back.
Remember love covers a multitude of sin, but love doesn’t condone habitual bad habits and decisions. If you know your son is struggling with certain issues and behaviors, get him help. Don’t condone and mask those problems for athletic gain. When not properly addressed, those problems could derail your son’s education, eligibility and his future. Remember, your silence speaks. Don’t enable but empower.
2. Your relationship with you son’s coach will be tested
Like any relationship, it takes time, patience and proper communication to grow. If you’ve done your job during recruiting, you should already have a working relationship with you son’s position coach. If you don’t, begin right away. Your son’s position coach is the most important relationship he has in the program.
Your conversations with your son’s position coach should never be about the depth chart or playing time. Your conversations should always be centered around the coaches’ expectations for your son on the football field, in the classroom and on campus. Knowing and respecting his expectations will help you properly partner with your son’s position coach in helping your son reach goals set by the head coach and the program.
Express any and all concerns you may have directly to your son’s position coach with respect. Do not tell him how to do his job. Focus the conversations on what he thinks your son needs to improve, develop and grow. Partner with him to help your son reach those goals.
3. You must keep your own expectations in check
Getting to the NFL should never be the goal when entering a football program. Yep, so table those NFL dreams. Going to the NFL is out of your control, and it shouldn’t be the focus. Hard work, discipline and consistency bring rewards. Injuries are a major part of the game. It’s the nature of the game.
Going to the NFL is not something you or your son can control. The focus should be your son’s success on and off the field. Whether he plays in the NFL or not, he still needs to be a professional. Instill in him the need to make the most of this opportunity and let the chips fall where they’re destined.
Remember, it’s not his responsibility to go to the NFL and provide for the family. His responsibility is to be dedicated and put his heart into becoming a productive member of society, not just a football player. Everyone cannot go to the NFL but everyone can become a professional.