Jock Schools for Student Athletes
Like many young athletes, 16-year-old Nic Godre of Spring, Texas, dreams of playing professional baseball. This past summer, while his friends cruised the beach and mastered their PlayStations, Nic spent his vacation honing his sports skills in hopes of catching the eye of college and professional recruiters.
"It's all about getting noticed by college scouts for me," Godre says. "Recruiters look for players with speed and athleticism, so I'm improving both in the hopes of landing a full college scholarship. After college, I want to go on to the pros. In fact, I don't know of any young athlete who doesn't hope to go on to the pros."
Back to School
Long before LeBron James landed a $90M Nike endorsement deal (and subsequent multi-million-dollar deals to pitch Sprite and Powerade), high school athletes have dreamt of dollar signs. In an effort to cash in early, or at the very least land a college scholarship, many young athletes are enrolling in the latest rage for the teenage locker room set: athletic enhancement training, or "jock schools," as many have taken to calling them.
Part professional groomer, part professional coach and part dream factory, jock schools have been popping up across the country. Until recently, this type of intensive training was available only at the college and professional level. But much like the economic trickle-down theory, the "win-at-all-costs" mentality of the pros is now trickling down to student athletics.
As a result, this new breed of private training facility staffed by professional coaches has tapped into an eager audience of young, intensely dedicated athletes who are looking to secure a coveted competitive edge. The training programs they offer run the gamut. Some focus solely on core areas such as increasing strength, agility and speed, while others offer sport-specific skills such as enhancing jump shots and completing touchdown passes. The common denominator is that every facility caters to students looking to be "the best."
Eddie Enriquez, president and co-founder of the CAP Elite in Houston, Texas and Kansas City, Mo., found out firsthand how hungry teen athletes are for specialized training. "When we opened our Houston facility, we had over 80 student athletes sign up in the first three months," he says. "Some are looking for college scholarships, some want to go to the pros, but universally, they all know that to be better athletes, they have to go the extra mile."
Nancy DeKalb of Nashville, Tenn., enrolled her two daughters, Emma, 15, and Maggie, 12, at Worth Club K Softball so that both girls could learn their respective positions correctly from the start. "Emma takes pitching because she's now competing on the high school level and wants to hone her technique and competitiveness," DeKalb says. "Maggie is working on her catching technique and is also learning more about batters and how to call pitches. Ultimately, they both want to receive college scholarships for softball."
Emma and Maggie are no different than the hundreds of thousands of high school students hoping for an athletic scholarship to help defray the rising costs of a college education. "But before you land a scholarship, you must first secure your place on the team," says Enriquez. "Today's level of competition in organized sports is tough, and the extra training often makes the difference between landing a spot on the team or not."
Matt Sobotik, 16, of Houston, Texas, had to compete to reclaim his starting position on his high school varsity team. "The training program at my school only focuses on weight lifting and strength, but what I really needed to improve is my speed and agility," he says. "Because I put in the extra work, I was able to increase my vertical jump by 5 inches this summer. As a result, I beat out the other players trying to win my spot."
Even if the athlete makes the team, they still have to be good enough to guarantee playing time. Athletes who sit on the bench don't get noticed by college recruiters – a fact that hasn't escaped their parents. It's one of the reasons they are willing to invest thousands of dollars in helping their son or daughter improve his or her sports skills.
Finding the Best
As the number of companies offering athletic performance training has exploded, so has the onslaught of marketing messages and claims of success. In their quest to help their children achieve their dream, it can be a challenge for parents to find the right program for their child. According to Enriquez, the students are not the only ones who need to do their homework.
"All programs are not created equal," says Enriquez. "Parents should investigate any training program thoroughly before enrolling their child." He suggests that parents look for the following before signing a contract:
- Make sure the program slowly progresses your child from his or her current athletic level to the level they want to achieve. Training too hard or too quickly can result in serious injuries, sidelining a career before it starts.
- Find out whether the company is willing to work with your child's coaching staff to integrate their existing training regimen into the new program. Trainers at cross-paths will only lead to more stress on your child.
- Ask for proven results. Has this company helped athletes secure scholarships, championships or titles?
- Ask the company for a list of former athletes with whom you can ask questions to determine if they can back up claims of success.
- Make sure that the company's trainers have a sports background and that their motivation style is based on positive reinforcement.
- If you feel pressured to sign a long-term contract, walk away. Companies with over-the-top sales tactics are focused on their bottom line versus helping your son or daughter better their performance.
Parents and experts agree that becoming a better athlete often leads to a higher confidence level – both on and off the field. When kids feel good about themselves, they are more resistant to peer pressure, perform better academically and generally have a better outlook on life.
DeKalb hopes the same for her daughters. "One of my co-workers was a college softball player," she says. "Everyday she demonstrates that same discipline, focus, performance under pressure and ability to juggle several projects without getting flustered that my girls are learning through the sport today. So I know that the skills they are learning through softball lessons will also translate to the rest of their lives."