Every summer, I coach volleyball at a sports clinic at my children’s school. Over the years, I noticed a Vietnamese boy in Number One Son’s class who would attend the sports clinic but never played on any of the school teams. In addition to being the smartest kid in his middle school class, he was a decent player who would have done well on the volleyball team. “His parents won’t let him play,” said Number One Son. This article from New America Media about immigrant parents and education says that my son’s classmate’s experience is fairly common among Vietnamese immigrant families. These parents strictly focus their children on academics but don’t realize that the narrowness actually reduces their children’s chances of getting into prestigious colleges.
Christina Pham was ready for a new challenge. She was on her way to a report card of straight A’s, yet the Santiago High School freshman aspired for more: She envisioned herself wearing the school colors—purple, white, and gold – next year for the volleyball team.
But Christina never made it to tryouts because her mom, Tuyet Mai, never gave her permission.
Another variation of this problem that I have seen is that when some of these families actually let their kids do sports, they make it a low priority and allow their children to miss practices, games, and meets. This can lead to a lot of resentment from teammates. During the year I coached track, I remember one Vietnamese girl on our relay team who said that she would make it to one of the last meets of the year. She didn’t make it, and one of her relay teammates, for whom this would have been her last race ever for the school, was angry and sad to the point of tears. This one girl’s absence scratched the whole team.
Putting aside the clear issue of frustrating their children’s passions, many of these parents don’t realize that a single minded focus on academics may in fact damage their children’s college admissions. With applications increasing and in many cases, admissions slots decreasing, good grades and test scores are commonplace among applicants.
In 2007, over 50,000 students applied to UCLA, according to Dr. Vu Tran, UCLA’s director of admissions. But the university will accept only 23 percent.
“[With] good test scores alone and a minimum of everything else, the chance for your admission is minimum,” said Tran.
Of course, not all Vietnamese families are like that. On The Daughter’s volleyball team, some of the best players were Vietnamese, and some of them even did club volleyball and volleyball in high school. When I coached track, I had a Vietnamese girl on a relay team that went to the state championships. I remember one Vietnamese boy who was on Number Two Son’s basketball team. His parents let him play, but ironically he got kicked off the team because he didn’t keep his grades up. I think this is one kid who parents should have focused more on his academics!
In the end, the Vietnamese boy who never joined the volleyball team did get into his first choice of highly competitive high schools. Number One Son and I were happy for him. I do worry, though, that if he continues to be narrowly focused on academics, he and his parents may get an unpleasant surprise when he applies to college.