Dear Hilltopper Community,


As we have continued these conversations throughout the school year, I have enjoyed the opportunity for dialogue. Thank you for your ongoing willingness to reach out with your thoughts and reactions. I am glad to hear from you.

Kind regards,


And vs. Or

Best Intentions

I had a conversation with the parents of a ten-year-old who feared their son would not make a top level soccer team in their city. They painted a grim picture for me. Unless he plays Academy or Premier, odds are he will never be in line for a college scholarship. The boy, a top student and good musician, was not far from the table where we spoke. I wondered whether he had begun to internalize this pressure to perform. The parents saw only one solution, more private coaching, which meant something would have to give—perhaps drums, perhaps recreation league basketball.

Two days earlier, I watched as we sent off our all-state participants in dance, skiing, music, and mathematics. Our band director made special note of one senior who was scheduled to ski at state on Thursday and then play percussion and piano at the state band competition on Friday. If his parents had felt the same pressure, which of these lifelong activities would he have sacrificed at age ten? And what about his two senior classmates on the Nordic team: one, an Eagle Scout; the other, a varsity soccer player who is investigating Nylon and other fabrics as part of an independent study in chemistry.

Student Before Athlete

As an independent school, part of our job is to be responsive to the wants and needs of our families. If families seek top-level athletic competition, we must to do our best to provide just that. Another part of our job, however, is to occasionally buck a trend and provide academic leadership when it's needed. The notion of specialization has much appeal to families who are driven to see their children succeed, but it is not the only way to find success, and it has many unintended consequences.


It is entirely possible to compete at the highest level while maintaining a healthy well-roundedness. Our winter season has provided all the proof families should need. Our girls' hockey team, for instance, just missed qualifying for the state tournament in one of the most competitive sections in the country. They also won the Academic All Section Award with a team GPA of 3.9, and will be a contender for top academic team in Minnesota. The girls on the team include students who participate in band, choir, orchestra, drama, speech, student government, and several other sports. In fact, many have participated at the state level in a second sport.

Less is Not More

The conversation I had with the family of the soccer player is one I encounter with increasing frequency. When I meet these parents, they are 100% certain there is only one path forward and they have found others who reinforce this notion. These are caring parents who want the best for their children, and want to provide every advantage. While these families are not always receptive to my guidance, if they do ask for advice, I offer this question: Ultimately, what is it that you want for your child? Better yet, what do they want for themselves?

Win or lose, I'll take our teams. As hard as they compete, as difficult as that final loss may be, our student athletes have the ability and the opportunity to redirect their passions to other pursuits—to sing, to play a second sport, to lead a club, to travel abroad, to compete in a poetry contest ... who would want to rob a child of those moments? Following this well-rounded path, our graduates earn tens of thousands of dollars in merit, far more than they would earn in athletic scholarships. From the special moments to the scholarship money, a choice to double-down on specialization usually leads to less rather than more.

(c) 2018 Marshall School 

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