It’s not often I get the urge to talk about the realities of having a high potential child athlete. It’s daunting to say the least when I think about all that went into organizing the efforts around a highly talented child. With each passing day as my one and only is developing her skills at arguably one of the most prestigious sports academies in the country – IMG Academy, I find myself with free time and the willingness to share. This is not how to do it but rather here’s how I did it.
MY STEP #1 – BE HONEST ABOUT THEIR POTENTIAL
Yes it’s great to love to see your child out there on the “big stage” but if their talent can’t get them there, your screaming, clawing, or crafting the messages won’t do it. As a former athlete I saw a wide array of talents. What I realized is that some people are honest with themselves, and many are not – especially the parents. The first thing I did was seek the advice of a ton of people as to what they saw in my daughter’s early skills in basketball. She started playing in the 4th grade – a relative late bloomer in our area where kids start playing around kindergarten age. My sport was gymnastics, so all I can honestly gauge in basketball is athleticism and heart. I sought people I trusted and developed what I thought was a consensus about her potential – she was headed somewhere.
MY STEP #2 – PUT DOWN THE POM-POMS PICK UP THE CAMERAS
One of the hardest transitions to make was to stop being a cheerleader on the sideline and to approach my attendance and participation as if I was hired to be there. A key phrase you’ll hear me say, “People can’t buy what they can’t see”. With that being said, my undergrad Marketing degree from Texas A&M kicked in. I had to film the games, take the pics, and capture every moment to help create future opportunities I hadn’t even thought possible (or maybe didn’t even exist at the time). Yes it was hard. I’m the one in the stands with all the comments. If the referee did something I didn’t like, I let him/her know about it. Yes all of that had to stop. It was counterproductive to the ultimate goal – college scholarship, professional basketball, remarkable career in basketball beyond simply playing. Yes my daughter knew early on she wanted to leave a legacy. With that identified, I had to get on board.
It helped I had a love for cameras, tons of equipment and a small production company. Yes she was off to a great start with me at the helm. The fun part was that I had never filmed action and it really is a unique animal to film in low-lighting settings in sometimes tiny gyms. So I improved my skill. Filming more than just her games so that I could be the best camera person for the task ahead. I also had editing experience but much was needed to learn. And I did – I learned. When other parents were eating after games I was reviewing my own footage and critiquing it for the next game. I sought the opinions of those I trusted and they gave great feedback that vastly improved my skill and the outcome of the footage.
Here’s the part people don’t tell you. Filming with cameras, tripods, etc is daunting. Gone are the days that you can show up in a cute bling tee with a designer purse and be good to go. Your load is heavy! You’re carrying bags that weigh a ton and that are not small gym/bleacher friendly – but you do what you must – we had a goal. Be willing to apologize when you take someone’s head out in the stands (smile).
MY STEP #3 – CREATE A SOLID FOUNDATION OF SOCIAL MEDIA
This was a conversation or should I say a negotiation of sorts with my young adult. All of her Social Media Accounts – Twitter, Instagram and YouTube channel were created at the end of her 5th grade year. Like most children her age, our ideas of the content was vastly different. Because she was technically too young to have these accounts – I had to manage them – and so I did. In the first year no tweet went out unless I approved the messaging. Yes the battles ensued during 6th grade, “Mom I just want to say what I want to say”. And then the “a-ha” moment happened. I suggested we look at some of her peers social media accounts who claimed to be on the same path of wanting to get to elite status – SHE WAS FLOORED. The things that these kids were saying…it didn’t match their goals. By the 3rd account we reviewed, she said, “Let’s keep doing what we’re doing”. My daughter drove the ideas for the content, I helped her craft the message until she was old enough to take over – and she did with flying colors by the end of 7th grade.
MY STEP #4 – LEAD, LEAD, LEAD
Where we’re from, most people follow the same path. Get on a team (hope the politics are in your favor) and your exposure stems from that path. Get on a bad team – you’re doomed. Get on a team that may not have the same goal as your family – you’re doomed. After 12 months of my daughter playing basketball at the rec level and beginning stages of the select level I made a shift. I reverted to my days as an elite gymnast which says to get better you train. I felt it was unfair to place my daughter in a game situation if she was not trained and ready to compete. And by the way when I use the word “compete” I do mean dominate. So we bucked the system and for the next 12 months my daughter spent 4-5 days a week with an excellent basketball trainer in our area – really the best. She trained with other athletes who were on a path and she broke out of the “old mold” that said good things only happened one way.
MY STEP #5 – BE UNAPOLOGETIC
When my daughter returned to a competitive team I had to become the big bad wolf if necessary to protect her path. Remember it’s all about the path. Every team she was on was good for her…she learned something different in each one. And when the lessons had been learned I was not afraid to say “goodbye”. Now I didn’t win popularity points among the often clique-ish basketball moms – but I truly could have cared less about their opinions – remember I had a goal. I was the support system for my daughter’s goals. Nothing and no one could dissuade me from that job. Did I endure a lot as the mom who filmed all of the time and didn’t join the clique? Sure I did. We dealt with a team stealing my daughter’s birth certificate after we left the team; parent’s verbally attacking me hoping I would act unruly (nice try). Ah yes we had everything and then some thrown our direction. To this veteran athlete I was hearing a beautiful symphony in my head as this stuff was happening because I knew this would help make my daughter stronger – it would fuel her passion and direction of success. Unlike some who were in our shoes, I did not course correct. We were receiving confirmation that we were on the right path. Shy away from pain? NO! Go through it to the other side.
MY STEP #6 – KEEP YOUR HEAD ON A SWIVEL
Always be willing to learn new things – new networks of people, new systems, new technologies, etc. Life comes at you so fast that it is important to work hard at staying a few steps ahead. This means go to camps outside of your region – get your character “out there”. Go to games professional and collegiate – show your child the near future to keep them interested and within striking distance of their own success. Are you going to be tired – YES. What does this look like? It may mean that you take the top 25 schools in the sport your child plays and create a Master Schedule of their games so that you can plan which games you will attend or watch on tv. Why do this? Imagine having a conversation with a recruiter but not knowing anything about the school or their program? It just doesn’t work. You’ve got to be educated and up-to-date.
MY STEP #7 – CEMENTING WORTH
While my daughter had confidence I needed her to understand herself so well that she would start to narrow down what schools should/could be part of her next step. Now that’s loaded big time. I mean I asked my child to start thinking in this way by the middle of her 7th grade year – quite the task! Here’s the deal – I don’t want her to waste time talking to a school that’s not on her path – out of respect for her journey and what that school is trying to do. To me scholarship time is not “let’s pick from what was offered”, it should be “Let’s make choices based on the both sides finding each other”. So that means just because the school sparkles in the NCAA Tournament – that is not the only criteria for my daughter. She’s got goals set athletically and academically for college – the school has to be right. By the end of the 7th grade she approached this like a business – doing her due diligence by researching schools.
MY STEP #8 – MIXED OLD SCHOOL WITH NEW SCHOOL
I’m only 44 years old as I type this post. So yes, I’m laughing that I am actually admitting that I injected the “old school” to my daughter’s new school! But hey, I’ve always been an old soul in a young body. By now I have friends who are college coaches in different sports. I listened to them tell me the good and bad parts of communicating with recruits and their parents. What seemed missing was the personal touch. People emailed like crazy – which meant recruiters inboxes were jammed. I’m an odds person and I don’t like those odds. Together my daughter and I crafted a structure to send handwritten notes to the schools she was following (many who followed her). She wasn’t crazy about the idea until she received the feedback. Who knew coaches loved seeing the effort! So she continued to send small notes (often times with her upcoming playing schedule) to keep coaches updated. Now my daughter is on the radar with head coaches – by the 8th grade. And that was special. Not because we bought a recruitment package or service, or because she went to a particular camp – she was on the radar because she was showcasing her character beyond her extraordinary basketball skill – that was priceless.
Bottom line it takes effort, persistence, resilience, and patience. To be the best takes the athlete working and their support system also working. Good luck!
Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux is an American author, publisher, speaker, and entrepreneur. Leading The Thibeaux Company®, drJ hopes to impact human performance in a variety of industries. Working with executives and key influencers in Fortune 100 companies, drJ has developed a keen sense of performance in action. Earning business and education advanced degrees, drJ continues to insert intelligence into the performance conversation. Hosting and appearing on a variety of radio shows, podcasts, and other broadcast mediums, drJ has no "stop" in sight. To find out more about Jennifer "drJ" Thibeaux or products and projects from The Thibeaux Company®, be sure to visit www.Thibeaux.org.