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What are the Odds?

boy's playing soccer

For many who have children in youth sports, there is a mantra that is oft-repeated as parents commit hundreds, if not thousands, of hours and dollars to the sport(s) their children play:

Well, if Susie can just get a college scholarship, it will be worth it all…

In fact, sports at the youth and high school levels have become such an overwhelming enterprise that there are is a growing space for entrepreneurs who are out helping to coach, train, and teach parents how best to promote and get their student-athlete to stand out amongst a crowd when it comes to advancing in the game to the next level. And all of this with the noble (or ignoble) hope that college will somehow be fully or partially subsidized by their young athlete’s proficiency in the sport.

people in green field watching soccer ball during daytime

But what are the odds?

As a chaplain, there have been many occasions where I have had to pastorally help a parent (or both) understand the expectations that they have for young Susie (or young Johnny). It is a space that is critical for chaplains that are working with high school students as well as collegiate athletes as well. A look at the two images below are screenshots capture from the public NCAA Research report that calculates the percentages of athletes that successfully go on to participate in college athletic program from reporting high school programs. The full report is located here.

In considering the sport of soccer, you can see from the above tables that men’s and women’s participation rates going from high school to NCAA (Divisions I-III) are 5.6% and 7.2%, respectively. If we were to include all collegiate programs (NAIA, et. al.) these numbers would be slightly higher, but I think it gives you a good sense of the odds for a young athlete to go on into the places where scholarship or school funding is possible.

The report goes on to report on an estimated probability for college athletes to go on to play professionally in their sport. Here is a disappointing miss for the research since there are both men and women’s professional soccer leagues here in the US, yet soccer as a sport is missing from the probability report. All this despite soccer having the 5th highest participation count on the men’s side and 4th highest on the women’s side for high school sports.

So what does all of this have to do with chaplaincy in soccer? Well, at the professional levels, chaplains minimally must understand the circumstances and conditions that many of the professional athletes that we serve (men and women) have had to go through in order to attain their professional level. As a part of their journey (as a pro) there have likely been many sacrifices made — experiences that we might say make up a normal childhood or teenage years have been cast aside for the sake of the game.

For chaplains serving in the collegiate ranks, we can realize and understand that a high level of proficiency in high school and club sport is often needed to continue playing at the college and university levels, but that for more than 99.8%* of the athletes in women’s soccer, for example, their soccer “careers” will come to an end in college. This ought to lead us to an increased sense of compassion and care toward particular issues surrounding identity and often regret/remorse that some athletes articulate as they consider how much of their lives and time was invested into the sport of soccer.

athlete playing soccer on field
The National Women’s Soccer League drafts some 36-40 athletes a year from the collegiate ranks — which means for some 28,270 players in the women’s game, they will “retire” from competitive play in college.

For the chaplains working with high school and youth clubs, this means that we need to help athletes and parents have healthy expectations about what it looks like to advance in the game competitively. It means seeing people have more holistic senses of life — around faith and family. Helping them be balanced and helping them understand, sometimes, or cope with the side effects of investing so much (usually too much) into a sport at the cost of other things.

Perhaps you and your son or daughter fit into one of these categories and you need help navigating and understanding better the odds the further along in the game as you go — I hope that this is a helpful article. Whether it serves as a check or a helpful reminder for framing good, healthy expectations around your place in the sport. Often times we lose sight of the game itself and its beauty for the dreams of financial reward or other kinds of gain. And most often, the sacrifices made for football come at the expense of our faith and our families.

If you would like to speak to someone further about the issues raised in today’s article, please email us at

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*(totally unscientific math on my part whereby I take the 2019 NCAA participants [28,310] and divide the total number of NWSL draft selections in the 2020 draft [36] by that number: to arrive at .00127)

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