The Ridiculous Business of Football Scholarships for Kids


by Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

I heard the other day that a 9-year-old was offered a college football scholarship. My first thought was ‘this kid must be really good.’ My second thought was about the pressure he will face as he tries to take his young body through strenuous workouts and conditioning until he is a senior in high school – the time when young people actually become eligible for college scholarships.

It’s not that uncommon for young children to set their sights high when they or their parents believe they have athletic potential.

We don’t really think too much about the ages of gymnasts, figure skaters or swimmers who proudly claim they learned their sport as toddlers and were competing competitively in elementary and junior high. After all, prime competition for these athletes’ peaks around 14 to 18 and by the time they reach 25, they fade into obscurity unless they are among the few to win Olympic medals or world titles.

But football is different. From elementary school to college a youngster undergoes so many changes that it is really difficult to predict physical and mental ability, or even stature. Of course, a 9-year-old won’t be competing against college men until he’s in college. And obviously, the offer of a scholarship is non-binding on the college and child. Why would someone offer a scholarship to someone who won’t be eligible to play for eight or nine more years?

This young boy was reportedly seen on YouTube and caught the eye of many people, including the college coach who offered the scholarship. The thinking must have been: “That little kid is so much faster than all those other little kids we should recruit him.” Or maybe it was, “Does anyone even know we have a football program? What’s the most outlandish thing we can do to get some publicity?”

My only hope is that this 9-year-old is able to keep his head on straight. My wish for him: Play football if you enjoy it. Break sprint records and entertain crowds on Tuesday evening at the local ballpark but also keep studying and plan for what happens if that coach moves on before you graduate high school. Stay healthy. Stay strong. Don’t let it go to your head. You’ve got eight or nine years to decide if and where you want to play football, but you might also rather play baseball, lacrosse, tennis, hockey or golf … or all of them.