The soccer mom. The travel team softball or baseball coach. The parents who spend their entire weekend driving their children across state lines in order to attend basketball or hockey tournaments and elite competitive events, that often have them staying in hotels and incurring routine weekend expenses that can add up to thousands of dollars each and every month.
While there are many campaigns and research that indicate that children involved in sports are better off in the long run, today’s parents have taken the level of participation to all new highs. Look at some of the hit shows on television, such as Dance Moms, or Cheer Moms – and it’s easy to see that sports involvement has become almost an almost maniacal part of raising children. The financial drain of competitive sports is astronomical, not to mention the physical and emotional stress that playing sports – and often multiple sports competitively – has on the children.
According to Investopedia, the most expensive competitive sports for children are as follows.
- Ice hockey
- Riding Equestrian
In order for talented children to remain challenged and competitive, parents often shell out thousands upon thousands of dollars per year to keep their children at the top levels of competitiveness. Years ago, children found their niche and their sports talent, as they were entering high school. Today, parents are pushing kids as young as 3 and 4 years old to pursue certain sporting activities in the hopes that years of involvement will enable their child to ‘be the best.’ For many parents, the ultimate goal is to gain a college scholarship. Yet research shows that only a sheer 9% of new college entrants are attending college on an athletic scholarship, while as much as 41% have obtained partial or full scholarships for academic achievements.
For many families, the drive to compete and continue to participate in sporting activities with their children is simply a way in their eyes to maintain a positive environment for their children to grow up in. Sports help to keep kids focused and out of trouble. Parents believe that practicing up to 6 days per week teaches a lot of lessons about hard work, perseverance, and keeps their children ‘out of trouble.’ Yet it can also interfere with your child having a regular, normal childhood and many professionals believe that too much involvement and too much pressure at such young ages is not just bad for the stress levels of children, but hard on the body as well.
When you consider the age of many of the athletes in the Olympics, which according to statistics is getting younger and younger every year, it is obvious that parents are taken on an amazing amount of financial stress in order to keep their kids at the top of their game. Long gone are the days of playing Recreational activities, and allowing children to participate in multiple activities until they find their niche and most enjoyed sport. Often due to parental pushing – children become locked in to specific sports and are encouraged to continuously practice harder. And parents of course, bear the burden of providing all the equipment and necessary tools that are needed for the sport.
The new breed of moving your child up the competitive ladder to athletic success is the formulation of ‘travel’ or ‘elite’ teams that often include many miles of travel. These kids play sports year round and very rarely get a break. If they are not competing during in season events, they are using the off-season to hone their skills and better their marketability in what has become a competitive market of talented athletes.
Sadly, the largest population of these young athletes will never realize their dreams of competing at an Olympic forum or collegiate level. And meanwhile, the parents will spend many years paying off many loans that have accumulated in order to provide their children with the ability to play. When you consider that a sport like gymnastics or equestrian at high levels can cost as much as $25,000 per year– not to mention an immense amount of time it seems almost inconceivable that parents can afford it.
Parents need to remain realistic. The ‘market’ of talent among youngsters today is immense. And there are seas of parents who are staying afloat on life rafts in order to keep their kids involved in competitive levels. And for what? On average by the time a child reaches 15 years of age, many kids are dropping out of their chosen sports altogether, resulting from a certain level of ‘burn out’ that results from too many years, competing too hard. And by then, their childhood is lost. They have missed friend’s birthday parties in lieu of practices. They have given up sleeping in and time with family for time in the gym or on the field. And parents have given up a fair amount of financial success and security as well in order to keep up with the Joneses and indulge their child’s (and their own) interest in competitive sports.
Sure, being involved in sports or outside activities is a special part of childhood. It keeps your child fit and healthy, helps them learn how to socialize, and gives them an outlet for stress and fun. Yet kids (and parents) shouldn’t be giving up their future and their lives for the love of sport. Children should be given the right to choose how they want to spend their time, and to what level of competitive play they want to achieve. If you notice your child burning out, or becoming less interested – or you cannot afford to keep your children playing at such a highly competitive level than some lines need to be drawn in the sand. All in all, there should be a balance of time spent doing extra curricular activities and just enjoying time with the family.