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My Teen Doesn’t Need School Sports To Be Well-Rounded

“Your daughter really needs to do a school sport. She needs it for her high school resume.”

My daughter’s school counselor looked very serious—worried, even—when he said this. There was a lot of emphasis on “really.”

“Why?” I asked him.

“To show potential colleges she’s well-rounded. Good grades aren’t enough.”

“Well,” I told him, “she is a straight-A student. But she also does community service. She has a job. She’s a leader in band. She dances at a local studio. She is well-rounded.”

“She needs a school sport on the list,” he repeated.

“Why?” I asked again.

“To be well-rounded,” he repeated again, still looking very serious and worried.

At which point I thanked him for his time and genuine interest in what was best for my student and left.

The older of my two children never did end up playing a school sport. She never wanted to. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with basketball, cross country, tennis, volleyball, soccer, swimming, or any of the other school-sponsored options that keep so many teens (and their parents) busy pretty much year-round. I understand athletics are the headliner extracurriculars for many districts. They are what get many kids interested in school in the first place.

In our own family, just a few months ago—after my younger daughter earned a spot on her school’s dance/pom team—I wrote my first-ever check for a school athletic fee. It was without a doubt some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

Being Well-Rounded Without Sports

But my first teenager (now a twenty-something college student) was plenty “well-rounded” on her own, without ever setting foot on a soccer field or basketball court.

With her clarinet, and about five different kinds of specialty footwear, she learned the same lessons on a marching band field and dance floor that many of her classmates learned on cross country courses with running shoes, or in swimming pools with goggles.

My daughter learned cooperation, perseverance, and dedication. She learned to balance work with play so she could get her homework done and get herself into bed to rest up for another pre-dawn to past-dusk day.

She learned how to be a good teammate and a good leader. She learned how to take constructive criticism, and how to value and enjoy the process, not just the end product.

She learned how to savor the thrill of victory and appreciate the lessons taught by defeat.

She learned now to overcome adversity and deal with disappointment.

My daughter learned all this without ever changing into a school-issued uniform in a locker room. Her teammates were her fellow musicians and dancers. But she was also part of a much larger team: that body of millions of teenagers who choose French club or robotics, drama or art, volunteering in the community or an afterschool job over anything that shows up under the “Athletics” tab on their school’s website.

I thought back to the school counselor’s comment and wondered, what do colleges look for when they say they’re “looking for well-rounded students.”

Are they looking for students who can excel beyond the classroom?

Are they looking for leaders with the ability to inspire and guide others to success?

Are they looking for team players willing to make long-term commitments to something no one is telling them they have to do?

If this is what colleges are looking for—if this is their definition of well-rounded—they found all these things and more in my firstborn. They’ll find all of those qualities in the teenager I’m still parenting, as well. And they’ll find them in so many other students who will never have “athlete” attached to their names.

In spite of the absence of a school sport on her high school resume, my musician/dancer was accepted, and received scholarships, to the college she knew was “the one” the moment we arrived for her first campus visit.

She’s thriving there now, pursuing her passions, continuing to grow as a student both in and out of the classroom. If I had the chance, I would want her counselor to know this: those lessons she learned while she wasn’t worrying about being well-rounded have ended up serving her well—all the way around.

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.