By Ken Reed

At one time, sports-loving kids played sandlot ball or pick-up ball. Basically, they’d call their friends and set up a game in the park or at a friend’s house that had a basketball hoop in the driveway.

Then with the advent of Little League baseball, parents got involved and started organizing the games for their kids. Teams were made up of neighborhood kids playing teams from nearby neighborhoods.

Fast forward to today and the club sports/travel team nightmare. Top youth athletes today are quickly encouraged to become specialists in a single sport, join a club team made up of top athletes from around the city or state, and then forced to come up with big bucks to fly to other cities, stay in quality hotels, and play games against other elite club teams from that state. Did I mention this happens as young as 10-years-old?

My daughter was on the top team in a highly competitive club soccer program. To continue on that team for the next year was going to cost approximately $8,000 due primarily to a dramatic increase in the number of airplane trips out-of-state. She was going to be 13 years old. We found other sports options.

Many families will also hire personal trainers for their kids to try and make them faster, stronger and more skilled.

This, folks, is the professionalization of youth sports.

Is this progress? Or insanity?

Travis Dorsch is a former NFL player who now studies parents engagement in their children’s sports as an assistant professor at Utah State University. He says family spending on youth sports has grown so much in recent years that it’s now as high as 10.5% of gross family income. As you might imagine, he also says this phenomenon is hurting family harmony.

“A family bringing in $50,000 a year could be spending $5,500,” according to Dorsch.

“Without being judgy, I’m fine with families spending that kind of money. What’s wrong is when that investment brings out some sort of negative parent behavior. Or if the kid says mom and dad are spending $10,000 on me a year, what are they expecting in return? Is it a college scholarship? The chances are slim to none of a kid getting a scholarship.”

Especially a full-ride scholarship. A lot of youth sports parents are shocked to discover that the vast majority of college athletic scholarships are partial scholarships and that there will still be a big invoice number due every semester.

Mike Trombley is a former pitcher for the Minnesota Twins and is now a financial advisor. He says one of the tragedies from the explosion of club sports travel teams is that kids in lower socioeconomic situations are left behind.

“Some people are not in the financial situation to pay for their kid to do it,” says Trombley.

Mark Hyman, an assistant professor at George Washington University who studies youth sports, says parents would be better off investing money in quest of an academic scholarship than an athletic scholarship.

“What I tell parents is if you want to get a scholarship for your kids, you’re better off investing in a biology tutor than a quarterback coach,” says Hyman. “There’s much more school dollars for academics.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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