So you’re a mom or dad who believes in the varied physical and mental benefits sports can deliver to your son or daughter.
Ultimately, your child’s devotion or lack thereof will decide which sport, if any, will light his or her path.
But parents have been known to place a ball, puck, racket, club or some other sports instrument in their child’s crib in an effort to nudge them in a particular direction.
The question is: Which sport is most likely to lead to a college scholarship? Which sport is most likely to lead to a pro contract? And which sport is most likely to get a young athlete seriously hurt, as in a traumatic brain injury?
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Let’s start with the scholarship issue, with statistics provided by scholarshipstats.com.
For boys, 16.9 percent of those who compete in fencing or gymnastics in high school earn Division I college scholarships, which is an extremely high rate relative to other sports.
For girls, 23.2 percent of high school fencers earn Division I scholarships.
But before you head out to find equipment for your prospective little swashbuckler, remember that fencing isn’t offered as a high school sport in Florida.
So let’s focus on the more popular sports, those with more than 100,000 high school competitors nationwide.
▪ Football: It’s the most popular boys’ sport in the nation with more than 1.1 million high school athletes, and 2.4 percent get to Division 1 (8 percent to college at any level). But the concussion issue may give parents pause.
According to headcasecompany.com, 47 percent of all sports concussions occur during football practices or games.
▪ Track and field: More than 650,000 boys and 545,000 girls compete in this sport. The percentage of those who reach Division I are 1.7 in boys and 2.3 in girls (5.2 percent boys, 6.1 percent girls at any college). Unlike football, which has a vibrant pro league in the NFL, the best track athletes are mostly celebrated just once every four years in the Olympics.
▪ Basketball: More than 540,000 boys and 430,000 girls play this sport in high school, with just 0.9 percent in boys and 1.2 percent of girls making it to Division 1 (6.1-6.4 percent any college). As for opportunities beyond college, basketball is played almost all over the world for men and women.
▪ Baseball/softball: More than 480,000 boys play baseball and 370,000 play softball. Division I rates are 2.1 for boys and 1.6 percent in girls (11.5-8.3 percent any college). As for next-level opportunities, few Americans make a living outside the U.S. And even the best college players usually have to spend a few years in the minors before getting a chance at the majors.
▪ Soccer: More than 410,000 boys and 370,000 girls play high school soccer. The Division I rates are 1.4 percent for boys and 2.4 percent for girls (9.1-10.1 percent any college). Soccer is a perhaps surprisingly dangerous sport due to head collisions as players rise up to strike the ball in the air. Only football, hockey and lacrosse — in that order — lead to more concussions. And in terms of pro contracts, it helps that soccer is truly the world’s game. Opportunities are abundant, with salaries varying depending on skill.
▪ Volleyball: It’s the third-most popular girls’ sport, with more than 420,000 in high school and 1.2 percent getting to Division I (6.2 percent any college). It’s much less popular among boys (52,000), with 0.9 playing Division I.
▪ Wrestling: More than 260,000 boys wrestle in high school, and the Division I rate is 0.9 percent (3.6 percent any college). Next-level opportunities are mostly in the Olympics.
▪ Tennis: More than 190,000 boys and 215,000 girls compete in high school tennis. Division I rates are 1.4 percent for both genders (5.3-5 percent any college). However, the competition here is fierce because there is the highest percent of foreign-born athletes coming to the U.S. and taking scholarships than in any other sport. That rate is 32.3 percent for foreign-born men and 30.4 percent for women. Among sports played in Florida high schools, the next most popular sport for foreign-born athletes coming to the U.S. is golf (12.2 percent).
▪ Swimming: More than 135,000 boys and 160,000 girls swim in high school. Division I rates are 2.8 percent for boys and 3.3 percent for girls (7.9-8.3 percent any college). And for girls who love the water, why not let them try synchronized swimming (only 603 girls compete nationwide but 12.9 earn D1 scholarships) and water polo (19,000 compete and 3.6 go D1).
▪ Lacrosse: More than 105,000 boys and nearly 82,000 girls play this sport in high school. Division I rates are 2.8 percent for boys and 3.4 percent for girls (13.0-13.3 percent any college). Concussions are a concern, ranking behind only football and hockey. And pro opportunities are relatively scarce.
▪ Golf: More than 150,000 boys and 70,000 girls compete in high school golf. Division I rates are 2.0 percent for boys and 3.1 percent for girls (8.1-9.2 percent any college). Obstacles include the financial cost of this sport and the foreign-born competition.
So what does all this info mean?
A lot will depend on your particular child. For example, what body type does he or she have? Certain sports such as basketball and volleyball offer better opportunities for long and lean athletes. Other sports such as soccer can boast that their greatest star, Lionel Messi, is just 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds.
Ultimately, though, it usually comes down to something quite simple: What sport does your son or daughter truly love?