Should Parents “Go for Broke” on Youth Sports?

Many parents encourage their kids to play sports in middle school and high school because they truly believe it’s good for their children’s physical and mental well-being. Athletic participation also provides an opportunity to instill discipline and develop social skills that could have a positive impact on their children’s futures.
But lofty hopes and dreams may inspire some parents to overspend on youth sports. The costs can really add up at more competitive levels, when payments for professional instruction, specialty equipment, and travel kick into high gear. On average, families with children who competed on elite teams spent an average of $3,167 per player in 2018, up from $1,976 in 2013.

Surveys suggest that many parents are willing to make big financial sacrifices to cover these costs, possibly even taking on credit-card debt or delaying retirement. Unfortunately, some parents may have unrealistic expectations, such as those who are confident their children will become professional athletes, despite the very long odds against it. That doesn’t mean parents should give up hope on their kids, instead of spending money themselves, they can discuss the team fundraiser ideas with the school administration. Schools can contact the organizations that could help in acquiring team sponsorships and funds. Those funds can help yours and other children in sports without parents having to take up financial responsibility for it.

Parents who assume that investing in competitive athletics will pay off in the form of college scholarships are also likely to end up disappointed. Only about 2% of high school athletes benefit from athletic awards, and few of them are “full rides.” College coaches often have more roster spots to fill than available scholarships, so many athletes receive partial awards that may cover only a small fraction of tuition costs.
Although most parents have good intentions, there may be some unhealthy side effects. According to a 2016 research study, young athletes whose families invested a large portion of their household income to sports felt more pressure to succeed and were less likely to enjoy the experience. And even if their kids love to play, parents should attempt to keep the costs in an affordable range so that other important financial goals (such as saving for college and retirement) are not neglected.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2019;
Family Relations, April 2016