So few have achieved it, yet so many have tried. For those who have, countless ask themselves its ultimate worth. For those who have not, many learned along the way it was not what they understood it to be and never would have pursued it if they had fully known.

The ‘S’ word, one that is spoken at fields, courts, and arenas, across the youth sports landscape from coast to coast. A word so powerful and mystical that it causes parents to make choices that would ordinarily never enter into their decision making. A concept so captivating, it moves thousands of valuable dollars out of our pockets and into those of strangers offering the promise of a glorious way.

The word of which we speak?

Yes, scholarship, as in athletic scholarship.

A concept usually driven at too early an age by parents, they themselves not fully understanding the opportunities, limitations, realities, or costs associated with the chase. And, without any of this knowledge, we as parents thrust ourselves, our children, and our families, into this quest for this perceived Holy Grail, one that is too often propelled by rumor and hearsay, fed to us by often misinformed peers, seeking a similar dream.

In the midst of this hunt, one could ask the harm being done. Is it not noble to shoot for distant goals, aim high, go for it, or fulfill other similar motivational clichés? Is it not better to shoot for the moon, knowing even if we land in a tree, we are still higher than before launching? Perhaps, but at what cost? What is the long term impact on our child? Their siblings? Our relationship with our children? The family as a whole? I suppose if we are to measure cost, we must know the payoff.

Let’s look at the data. Less than 2 percent of athletes, one in 54, receive scholarships to play collegiate sports. Of those, when taking out full scholarships for Division I sports such as basketball and football, the average amount is miniscule. On top of that, Division III schools, while offering academic scholarships to athletes, cannot offer athletic incentives. And the kitty for Division II athletes is far diminished from Division I. Bottom line, while there are dollars available for athletic scholarships, most are very small.

Shall we discourage athletes from pursuing their college athletics dream? Not a chance. If the athletes truly have a passion for playing their chosen sport at the collegiate level, they should pursue their ambition with the same passion they play their sport. But, let the focus be playing the sport, not securing a scholarship.

Having had children in sports and having gone through the scholarship chase, I encourage all involved to first and foremost thoroughly enjoy the youth sports experience as an end, not a means to an end. Parents, I encourage you not to get caught up in all the chatter about what your child needs to do to get an athletic scholarship. Do not feel compelled to sign up for every travel team, venturing up and down the coast, spending thousands of dollars every season, lest your child falls behind in the scholarship chase. When the entire scenario plays out, the best athletes will receive the scholarships, not those who spent the most money or travelled the farthest distances. It is important for your child to gain as much playing experience as possible. But there is no need to travel to distant lands to achieve this objective.

Keep family balance the highest priority. When a child is being chauffeured from tournament to tournament, they, their siblings, and even you as parents, are losing the benefits of being together around the dinner table, playing board games, traveling with the primary purpose of just being together, rather than focusing on one athlete. Consider the message being sent when the family process centers on their sports and their events.

We all know many athletes and families that have had wonderful experiences traveling for sports along with athletes that have had rewarding, scholarship supported college careers. But for every one that fully realizes the dream, so many others end in disappointment. Focus on the ride rather than the destination. Fully embrace all that youth sports have to offer. If a college experience with an athletic scholarship come to be, enjoy that as well, but let it be a byproduct. Be sure the journey itself was not compromised by the quest for the Holy Grail.

Bill Barry is a North Kingstown resident. He writes about the local sports scene, sports parenting and more in a regular column.

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