Home School vs. Traditional School

Image courtesy of familyfrugalfun.com
Image courtesy of familyfrugalfun.com


Today’s guest post is the second from new ParentingAces contributor Todd Widom, a junior coach in South Florida. Todd competed in USTA junior tennis and reached a #5 ranking in US Boys 16s and held the # 1 ranking in US Boys 18s. That success earned him a full athletic scholarship from the University of Miami. After reaching the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 2003, he decided to test himself on the pro tour. Due to multiple injuries, Todd’s career was cut short, and he retired from the tour following the 2010 Australian Open. He has been coaching ever since.

There is a new trend in tennis development with coaches convincing parents that pulling their child out of regular school and putting them into an online source of education is going to progress their child’s tennis at a more rapid rate. Tennis is a big business and more hours for your child on the court equates to more money for the coach or academy. However, more hours on the court does not mean that your child will progress faster or even progress at all, and it could even mean that your child regresses. It is all based upon the quality of the training.

I have parents call me often explaining how their child trains five to six hours a day, they are home schooled, and they are really struggling with results in their tournaments. I usually take a player like this on the court for an hour or so, and notice that they struggle to get through the hour training with me. The junior tennis player should be training to build up the mental and physical stamina in order to be able to handle all these hours if the training is to the utmost quality. If the player trains 25 to 30 hours a week and they cannot get through a normal hour of good training with me, and if they are running around with four to five other kids on a court, do yourself and your child a favor and keep them in school. You will save yourself a great deal of headache, money, and time if your child and their tennis training is not done properly.

My generation of tennis players, during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, that went on to become professionals or very high-level college players never had an online school option. We went to school and trained after school in a very disciplined environment for two to three hours. I understand that times have changed and online school can work if it is done properly. I also understand that many schools will not allow kids to miss enough days for when they are playing tournaments so the child is frequently forced into going the online route. If you are training in a very disciplined manner, in an excellent and well-formed system, and you are very disciplined with your school work, then the online program can work in the child’s favor. During my years in coaching, I have had students go to and play tennis at Ivy League schools with an online education.

I have seen where the online program can work with highly disciplined students and I have seen where the program is a disaster because there was no organization. It is the responsibility of both the student and parent to make sure that the school work is done in a timely fashion and done properly. I would not rely on the academy to make sure that your child is doing their work and doing their work up to par. No one cares for your child more than the parents.

When I was a junior tennis player, my vast improvements in development were in the summer when I could spend double the amount of time training and improving my skills. I was also trained by professionals that did not market and sell that they produced professionals in their system, even though they actually did produce very high-level college players and professionals. Therefore, the time spent on the court was always of the highest caliber and spending double the time on the court in the summer months were most beneficial. If you have the option for your child to be in a great training environment, they are serious about their tennis and seeing how far they can go in their tennis career, and they are disciplined and focused on being educated, I would probably take the online educational route. If the tennis system your child attends is not the best quality or they do not have a great desire to be the best they can be, then do yourself a favor and keep your child in school. If your child is a serious tennis player and has aspirations of being a high level college tennis player or a professional tennis player then you should consider online school and the best training system you can find for them to be successful and reach their best potential.

4 Comments on “Home School vs. Traditional School”

  1. We started online school when my daughter was in 6th grade. Why? Because the training we wanted to do wasn’t feasible outside of normal school hours. Our daughter was an excellent student in K-5 so we assumed she could handle this switch.

    In the beginning it was tough – the first couple of months we (her parents) really had to push about sitting down in front of her computer and completing her assignments. At some point the light bulb clicked on for her and she figured out a routine to get her studying done. From that point forward she owned the outcome and took care of business. It was like this through 7th grade.

    Unfortunately, her school decided that it wanted to focus resources away from online school. So for 8th grade we needed to find an alternative. After talking it over with our daughter she decided she wanted to attend the local public school. We were all very concerned about what this would do for her training, but the school turned out to be surprisingly flexible. It offered zero period and ISPE so our daughter was able to get out of school at noon every day.

    My daughter quickly realized (after only one week) that she enjoys online school better. I remember at the end of the first week she said, “I can’t believe how much time is wasted in regular school.” She wanted to switch back to online school but we wouldn’t let her. She continued to do well and she enjoyed being with her friends but she couldn’t wait to get back to online school for 9th grade. I will say that her 8th grade teachers were extremely flexible and supportive of my daughter’s travel schedule (e.g., National Selection tournaments, Easter Bowl, etc.)

    We did look at the local high school for 9th grade but the level of flexibility was not as good as what we had in 8th grade. So we decided to use Laurel Springs for high school. We have been happy with the decision.

    Because LSS is different from what she experienced in 6th-7th grades she had to find her rhythm for getting her work done, and she has done so. She understands how to stay ahead of the assignment curve and when she travels she is able to get work done. After completing 8th grade she immediately enrolled in LSS for summer classes. Because of summer school she will be able to graduate at least one semester early if she chooses.

    Online school isn’t for everyone – your child needs to be disciplined. We have easy access to her work so we can monitor progress and outcomes. But ultimately the child has to do the work. The flexibility that you get from being in online school is wonderful. Whether it is for training, tournament travel, or even a vacation (we went to the Australian Open and attend the BNP Paribas every year) it is so nice to not be constrained by a school calendar.

    And the tennis? If I had a dollar for every time I heard a parent or a player bemoan the fact that they can’t play in a tournament because of a rigid school schedule I’d be able to afford privates for a year! By not being constrained to after-school time it is so much easier to schedule training.

  2. Our daughter attended a rigorous “bricks and mortar” school, and then trained every day for 3 hours after school. She developed incredible self-discipline and work ethic. It was a lot for her to juggle and ITF tournaments were seldom an option because of missed school. She was always able to play the important tournaments and did miss some school throughout high school, but was able to manage it.

    She is now playing for a ranked D1 team and juggling school/tennis just fine because she is used to being on a schedule that gives her little free time.

    One thing about virtual schools that isn’t mentioned in this article – it is critical to make sure that a student meets all requirements for NCAA eligibility. In 2013, the NCAA stopped recognizing credits from a fairly long list of online schools (think they didn’t meet requirements for sufficient teacher interaction). We know of one high level player who had signed a NLI only to be ruled ineligible at the last minute because of their school. My daughter was also told by at least one D1 coach that there had been trouble with eligibility of online schools, so it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident.

    I imagine the NCAA can confirm the status of any school and then it would just be a matter of ensuring the class/subject requirements were met.

  3. There are many factors to deciding if home schooling is right for your child. When mulling over the idea of home schooling my child, I ask a well know coach in our town. He made the point that my child had less than a 1% chance of becoming a money making pro. Also the fact that for most to becoming functioning adults, they need to develop social skills learned in group situations. My child attended public schools, played 4 years of high school tennis, and was given a full scholarship to a D1 school.

  4. The variety of personality, and learning styles make Home School/Traditional School decisions very individual. There is no one-size solution, or even a “mostly” solution, as small variances in each child will affect how they respond to each environment.

    We tried to work out a half traditional, half online option with our school, but while the administration was willing to work through it, the Diocese (Catholic School) wouldn’t accommodate any non-traditional options.

    Hard to train 3-4 hours, go to school for 8-hours, and study 2-hours per day. That’s a 13-14 hour day without travel. In reality, kids have to get up at 6 – 6:30 to be at school by 7:30. Out of school at 3:30, then drive 20-30 minutes to tennis, and train for 3-4 hours. Then 30-minutes drive back home to study for 1-2-hours. They might get to bed around 10:30-11:00, and that’s with zero time to themselves. In actuality, that’s a 17-hour day. I know I would burn out doing that schedule for years at a time. Why would kids be any different?

    We went all-online and found it great. My daughter was very self-directed. A set-it-and-forget-it kid who studied whenever time allowed, without being told, and pulled a 3.98 GPA. I took several online courses after college and found them to be fantastic. If you understand the material, you can cruise through that lesson. If you get stuck, you can slow down. However, in traditional school, the instructors have to teach to the lowest common denominator, so they spend an inordinate amount of time reiterating material that many students have already grasped. For us (I emphasize this is not universal) we found that she could actually reduce the time needed for learning from 9-10 hours (8-hours school + 1-2 hours study) down to 4-hours total.

    As to socialization; again, that’s an individual trait. My child is highly social, and gets all the social interaction she wants from the other kids at her tennis academy, tournament friends, and local non-tennis friends. As long as you don’t wall them off from society trying to make the next #1, most kids will have lots of friends outside of school.

    All that being said, we couldn’t take the same path with my son. If he can find a distraction, he will. I would have to sit in his room and keep him focused on learning if I want decent grades. Plus, there isn’t a robust enough filtering software on the market to keep young boys out of trouble on the internet if they have enough alone-time with a computer. For him, I am happy with the results from traditional school, and don’t intend to change that. I also don’t have him in tennis. For boys, it’s not a reasonable investment.

    So… one family, two children, two different education directions. For those considering the online route; I would recommend having your child take some online classes in the summer to evaluate the fit for them. Worst case, they get some extra education, but you now have an idea of whether to proceed or not.

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