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Pleasanton Preps: Thinking back on my mistake raising a standout youth athlete

Drawing a hard line on academics is just as important as supporting sports success
Stock photo.

I talk with our local high school coaches throughout the summer chatting about the upcoming year. We hit on subjects like summer workouts and special events.

Working in a middle school I will speak to the coaches about the incoming freshmen, giving insight into their personalities and traits, letting them know so they will be there to help if necessary.

I will say our local coaches are in this for the kids to develop. Wins and championships are nice, but the kids leaving high school better prepared for the world than how they entered is the No. 1 priority.

It's during the summer every year I hear stories from some of the coaches that are like a gut punch. Plans are put in place to help the students, then thrown out the window usually by parents who want to be the good guy as opposed to the one to make tough decisions.

I was one who made that mistake.

Recently I heard a story about a local athlete -- not going to say a boy or a girl -- that needed an important summer school class to graduate and move on to college.

Summer school has a maximum number of absences and if you exceed that number, you don't make it through. The parents opted to let the student travel to a tournament with a club team, putting them over the acceptable absence level.

The result -- no graduation, no four-year school off the bat.

To some that may seem harsh, but the reality is there must be a line drawn in the sand. For seniors, we are about to send them out into the real world, whether it is college or the workforce.

We expect them to be coddled like they were in high school but that's not going to happen.

What needs to be done in the best interests of the students? It's a tough answer but it is the right one, and I can testify from personal experience.

Parents need to be tougher, be it with academics or behavioral issues.

My youngest boy was one of those kids who from the time he could walk he was an incredible athlete, and it didn't matter the sport.

Switch-hitting successfully on a travel baseball team when he was 6; mastering X Games skateboard skills at the same age; dominating youth soccer and little league games in Pleasanton when he was in elementary school. In football he was a hard running fullback that hit like a ton of bricks on defense.

In fourth grade, he went to lacrosse and took it to an entirely different level, making traveling NorCal teams as a goalie but also winning awards as an attack player.

By the time he was in middle school we had gotten letters from college coaches. Here is where I made my mistake -- he needed to be pushed and held accountable academically, and I failed to do so.

My wife repeatedly told me we needed to sit him down until he got his stuff together in the classroom. I always used the excuse that if we pulled him out of sports until he got better, it would hurt the rest of his teammates who had done nothing wrong.

She reluctantly let me have my way and he scooted through middle school and high school. Lacrosse got him into a college because the coach hand-walked his application through the admission process.

Off he went to college without the preparation he needed to be successful academically. That's 100% on me.

He is now in his mid-20s and is doing well. His work ethic is second to none, using lessons he learned from athletics, and from the military.

Athletically he still excels -- without ever having formal golf lessons, he is a single-digit handicapper.

He has a gift of leadership that he is nurturing and turning it into a powerful tool in the business world.

I am very proud of the young man he has become, but I know I could have given him more skills outside of the field of play.

I was blinded by the bright lights of success for my son in athletics but neglected academics.

What I am saying to parents of younger athletes is to not make the same mistake: Hold the kids accountable in the classroom, even if it means the athletic side suffers.

This is way easier said than done, but take it from someone that has lived it -- you must do it.

At the end of the day, we can only compete athletically for so long, but we will be competing in life for the rest of our time. Give your kids the tools to be successful in all aspects, even if this means holding from summer athletic trips.

I am very lucky that my son is headed toward a successful life. He was able to apply athletic lessons learned into the real world.

That's not always going to be the case and we lose young adults to bad decisions all the time. If we focus from their early school days, we are best equipping our kids.

Editor's note: Dennis Miller is a contributing sports writer for the Pleasanton Weekly. To contact him about his Pleasanton Preps column, email

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