Why Do We Spend Thousands on Our Young Athletes?

With the current youth sports buzzword being “development”, what are we actually “developing” them for? What's the point when most will finish their sports career when they graduate college?

So I read an article the other day in which the author essentially asks “why we are spending all of this money on our young athletes?”

(Also, if you didn't read my blog about playing sports in college , she links to her own interview with a D1 Women's Coach. Interlinking is what makes blogs go-round!)

Anyway, what's the point of it all?

We get our kids into soccer (and other sports) because we want them to experience it and have fun. They might even show an affinity for a particular sport or, let's be honest, might just be bigger/faster for their age than other 5 year olds. But, at some point, our little stars might be (perceived to be) bored with their rec team and, around age 8, "premiere" sports start to happen.

Age 8-11 is a fun period. You can practically see them growing and improving week to week. With the right team/coach/system, it's all "development" for a few years rather than wins/losses. This is the period of dreams, baby! D1 scholarships, Olympics, National teams! These dreams are sometimes pushed along by the encouragement of coaches. Everything is rosy in this period.*

Around U13, however, things start to shake out. That tall fast kid may not seem so tall and fast anymore and teams that rely solely on that start to fade. For 99% of us, both parents and player should start to realize that "Olympic Gold" might be a stretch. At this point, if your child is traveling to tournaments, you might both also be realizing that being the best on your team, might not mean much elsewhere. A nice sense of realism finally starts to creep in. In my opinion, this is also a time when the soccer is actually starting to be of good quality. With physical differences starting to become less relevant, the kids who have worked hard to develop or put the time in to get in shape or learn the game really start to shine. The concept of “team play” becomes much more important. The games are more fun to watch and enjoy. I can’t really speak (yet) as to what happens after U14, however. I hear that when high school begins many players find other sports or simply other things to do with their time. Enjoy it while it lasts!

But I want to get back to “What’s the point?”

Why do we spend thousands of dollars on our children’s sports careers that will most likely peak in high school? Even those who play in college, the great majority of those careers will end by the time they are 21 years old.

I am certainly not suggesting that we give up on sports. However, I would encourage fellow sports parents out there to take a moment to consider the question. Lets assume that your star's competitive career will end faster than you might imagine and very quickly they’ll need to have had life experiences other than soccer. What benefits does your child gain?

With the current youth sports buzzword being “development”, what are we actually “developing” them for? As the article above also asks, what does it mean to have a “successful” athletic career?

I would suggest that we are developing citizens rather than pro athletes.** We are developing children that we hope have a strong sense that being a valuable part of a team and understanding that commitment and effort are important to success. We are developing in our children the realization that working hard at something can produce good results. We are developing in our children the self-confidence to learn from a loss and seek to get better. We are developing in our children the awareness that yes, they can do it! (but, even if they ultimately can’t, they benefit from trying). We are hopefully developing in our children the awareness to value physical fitness and the joy of sports.

I’d like to say that a successful result of all of the money spent on my kids’ sports is that, when they are 25 years old and living on their own somewhere, they seek out find a team that runs around on a Saturday morning for the sheer enjoyment of playing and to spend time with friends.

I’m not quite sure the ROI on that is what they’d teach in business school but having that as a goal certainly makes it easier to say “no” to some of the more outrageous expenditures*** and the courage to step away every now and then.****



*This is also a period fraught with peril if you buy too much into the hype. Encouragement can quickly turn into pressure or an undeserved sense of entitlement that will suck the joy out of a game. Beware!

**If you are one of the tiny percentage who might actually be raising a pro athlete, congrats – but keep in the mind that the rest of this still applies! It doesn’t hurt to have a pro athlete who also is a good citizen. Think Abby Wambach, not Albert Haynesworth.

***And here I specifically mean ODP. Tryouts are soon!

**** I love my kids and their sports but, like every other dad, get too wrapped up in it from time to time. These articles and posts are just as much to remind me as to lecture you, dear reader, please don't be too annoyed!

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Michael H November 15, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Thank you, Andrew. That article you reference (linked to above in my blog) is what got me thinking about it in the first place - I keep waiting for "Part 2" to come out! ODP tryouts aren't until 12/1 but the U12 and under "Project 100" program tryouts happened in October. I forgot about that program so thanks for the reminder.
andrew einsmann November 15, 2012 at 04:17 PM
http://www.soccerwire.com/blog-posts/how-much-does-a-soccer-scholarship-really-cost-pt-2-of-2/ part two was hiding....
Michael H November 15, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Thank you, Andrew! All Readers - as I expressed above, I don't believe that we necessarily shouldn't be spending the money. I think there is a ton of real life lessons to be learned from team sports and the right atmosphere (not the least of which are learning how to lose and how to learn from a loss, how to manage time, hard work equals success, etc.) But, as Dr. Lebolt mentions, it needs to be a family decision with realistic goals and the occasional ability to say "Nope - that's just not worth it".
andrew einsmann November 19, 2012 at 05:48 PM
As a coach, I make the decision, "Nope it is not worth it all the time." Your coach should be valuing touches on the ball (fun and trying to develop a love affair between the child and the ball) more than competition and sometimes competition costs money and players get less out of it then a simple free practice at a local park.


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