Many parents of children who participate in elite youth athletic programs put their family’s financial security in jeopardy in order to pay for youth sports. A recent survey by TD Ameritrade revealed that most parents of children in these elite athletic programs spend an average of $100 to $500 per child per month on youth sports while 20% spent over $1,000 per month per child. These levels of spending occur despite an absence of an emergency fund (40% of respondents) or retirement savings (33% of respondents). All respondents have children who are members of elite club teams sponsored by non-school organizations.
Loss of perspective
Encouraging youth athletic competition and spending money on it is admirable, but if basic financial needs are being ignored in favor of additional spending on youth athletics, there has been a loss of perspective. The survey revealed that 57% of respondents had no long-term financial plan. It is difficult to prioritize spending without long-term financial goals and a plan to attain them.
Those parents who expect to receive a financial return on the money they spend on elite youth athletics have also lost perspective. Two-thirds anticipate their children will win college athletic scholarships while only 24% received scholarships, and 34% expect their children will compete in the Olympics or professional athletics when in reality only 2% do so.
Early specialization and drawbacks to participation in elite youth athletics
High levels of competition in elite youth sports programs push youngsters to specialize in one sport at an early age. Eighty-three percent of respondents’ children participated in only one sport and played that sport competitively nine months out of the year. Specialization most often occurred between the ages of 9 and 10. This may be why “burnout” was identified by 49% as the number one drawback to their children’s participation in elite youth sports programs. “Time commitment” (49%) and “possible injury” (46%) came in as the second and third most cited drawbacks to participation in elite youth athletics.
Benefits of participation in elite youth sports programs
Survey respondents identified “teaching values” (67%), “increased confidence” (41%), and “regular exercise” (36%) as the top three benefits their children get out of participating in elite youth sports programs.
How to reduce the cost of participation in youth sports
The benefits of participation in organized youth sports are valuable. Here are some options for reducing the costs of participation:
- Buy used sports equipment. Young children outgrow athletic equipment before they wear it out.
- Avoid the cost and time commitment of elite programs until a later age. Instead, have your children participate in city recreation programs or programs sponsored by local service and civic organizations. These are available at a minimal cost, and your children will still receive the benefits of organized athletics noted above.
- Avoid early specialization, limit participation in any one sport to three or four months out of the year, and encourage participation in multiple sports. This will help prevent burnout, reduce the costs of repetitive use injuries, and broaden your children’s exposure to athletics.
Parents do not have to jeopardize their family’s financial security in order for their children to participate in organized sports. The place to start is to identify long-term financial goals, make a plan to attain them, develop a budget that reflects the plan, then determine what can be spent on youth athletics without putting the financial plan at risk of failure.
K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle, Double-Dome Publications, 224 pages