Editor's Note: This blog originally was posted November 22, 2013, and the topic rings true today.
As high school seniors are scrambling to complete their college applications, I’ve reflected on how what is valued is changing.
I was accepted to both of the Ivy League schools to which I applied. This was at a time when evidence of being well-balanced, middle class and Midwestern were seen as strengths on an application. I don’t think I would be admitted to those institutions on the basis of those strengths today.
It appears that our so-called “elite” institutions are now looking for the outlier:
Not participation in three different sports, each in its own season; but participation in one sport, year-around; and the more non-traditional the sport, the better.
Not committed involvement in activities of the local school; but involvement away from school; maybe the invention of a product or electronic program or the founding of some nonprofit organization that improves the human condition of people in other places.
When we list all the factors that entice high school students to specialize in a single sport, we need to include that society today has made “well-roundedness” less worthy of praise than being “one-of-a-kind,” and that’s diminishing the value of being a team member unless one is the star on that team.
It is highly doubtful that either high schools or colleges are strengthened by these trends. More importantly, it is equally doubtful that single-focus childhood is the strongest way for young people to become good neighbors and community citizens.
What I continue to encourage for most students is that they sample the broad buffet of opportunities that a full-service school offers. To participate in both athletic and non-athletic activities. In both individual and team sports. To be a starter in one sport and a substitute in another. To participate in solo and ensemble. To be onstage and backstage. To taste winning and losing, and both in ample proportion.