What Happens When Kids Over-Participate In Sports?


photo by Central Virginia ASA News

There’s two trends happening in youth sports today—non-participation and over-participation. On one hand we have kids who are leaving sports in great numbers (see chart below). It’s a problem which many organizations are trying to address. Yet on the other, running parallel to this trend is over-participation, better known as specialization. In this instance kids are focusing on one sport to the exclusion of all others, playing  year-round, five or six days a week.

Readers with children under the age of 16 are likely quite familiar with this latter phenomenon.  It’s most evident by the growing number of club teams and travel leagues, often for kids as young as seven (Jayanthi et al., 2013). I can vouch for this not only with one of my three kids who specialized, but in a vivid example I witnessed when visiting Texas last year. I was staying at a hotel at same time as a group of young families who were there for weekend softball tournament. These ‘athletes’ were between the ages of five and six. The girls seemed more interested in running around the hotel and swimming in the pool than playing softball. I’ve no doubt that each family spent at least $500 for the weekend in travel costs; another outcome of specialization. It represents a significant commitment of family resources—time and money.

Kids Leaving Sports

The Current Sports Problem, nearly 3 million fewer kids played basketball, soccer, track and field, baseball, football, and softball. The Aspen Idea Blog [http://www.aspeninstitute.org/about/blog/7-charts-that-show-the-state-of-youth-sports-in-the-us-and-why-it-matters]

This phenomenon of over-participation represents a cultural shift, yet it’s also linked to the growing number of non-participating kids. Experts suggest that the youth sports system caters to meet the needs of the most talented kids, and to families willing and able to invest the needed resources (Rosenwald, 2015).  It seems almost inevitable that kids from middle-class neighborhoods are forced to choose a sport early on, usually one that the child shows the most potential for success. Forced may be too strong a word, yet it’s the path that seems fated.

Factors that influence specialization are complex, and include influences from parents, coaches and the system itself. It’s also the beginning of the journey where sports is no longer for fun, but to win. It’s no wonder that many kids end up quitting, or want to quit, but find it more difficult as they get older due to a complex set of factors that often include (overt or covert) pressure from parents, coaches, teammates and a sports-focused culture.

“It’s just about impossible to stand up to it if you want your kids to play competitively,” said Elizabeth Pelcyger, a Washington mom whose son felt pressure even from his baseball teammates because he wasn’t playing year-round.  — Are parents ruining youth sports? The Washington Post

The Risks/ Detrimental Effects
Just as there are risks associated with non-participation, such as obesity, health problems, poor performance in school, etc. there are other, less publicized effects due to sports specialization. Most of the negative risks documented in the research are ones that our family experienced with our one child that did specialize in one sport.  I share them here in an effort to raise awareness for families; not to be a downer or put a negative blanket over sports participation.

  • Burnout  — is considered to be part of the a group of negative conditions that include over-reaching and over-training. There’s three dimensions to burnout that include emotional exhaustion, de-personalization, and reduced performance (Maslach).
  • Higher rates of overuse injury — there a significantly elevated risks for injury once training volume exceeded 16 hours per week (Rose). Also one study found that 1 out of 5 of competitive elite athletes reported injury as the reason for quitting one’s sport (Butcher).
  • Adverse psychological stress  higher rates of anxiety, depression and poor emotional health reported among children who specialize at early ages (Jayanthi).
  • Poor eating habits recent research indicates the youth sport experience may exert a negative impact on food choices by athletes and families due to time constraints associated with practice, competitive and travel schedules leading to a reliance on fast food.

When examining the risks and detrimental effects documented (above), they do outweigh the benefits of sports involvement. But there is an optimal midway point between the two; a happy medium where kids experience the benefits of competition, teamwork and being active.  And kids don’t need to play one sport exclusively, six days a week, mostly year round with families spending hundreds of dollars yearly to experience the benefits.

Boys from theYonge Eglinton Neighbourhood mix it up with a little street hockey. The city is under pressure to drop the city wide ban on street hockey and Trustee Josh Matlow is heavily involved.Matlow in the middle of the street with boys as a car approaches..(June15 2010 )Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star.

Don’t underestimate the value of Informal sports, e.g. pick-up games like street hockey, baseball or others. Picture here of Boys in a Toronto neighborhood playing street hockey. (June15 2010 ) Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star.

What Parents Can Do
The Aspen Institute’s Project Play is just one program trying to change the culture, emphasize and healthy sports participation. They have a section dedicated to parents which is worth a read. Highlights below:

  • Try different sports individually and as a family. Research shows that the most active kids have the most active parents.
  • Ask your children about their goals and preferences in sports, then design activities accordingly. Redefine success on their terms. At the same time, know the odds against your child playing at the college or pro level, and commit to making athletes for life.
  • Advocate for children other than your own.  Join a local sport board and promote inclusive policies such as delaying the start of travel teams, adding fee waivers for low-income families, and committing to equal playing time through age 12.

Further Reading


  • Butcher J, Lindner KJ, Johns DP. (2002). Withdrawal from competitive youth sport: a retrospective ten-year study. Journal of Sport Behavior, v, 25(2), pp 145-163
  • Maslach C., Jackson S.E. (1984). Burnout in organizational settings. Journal of Applied Sociology, vol 5, pp. 133–153.
  • Jayanthi N.A., Dechert A, Durazo R, Luke A. (2011). Training and specialization risks in junior elite tennis players. Journal of  Medicine of  Science in Tennis, v. 16(1), pp 14-20
  • Rose, M.S., Meeuwisse WH., Sociodemographic predictors of sport injury in adolescents. Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise, v. Mar; 40(3), pp. 444-50.

What Makes a Youth Sports Coach GREAT?


Inspiring • fair •  skilled • trustworthy—words that describe a great coach. Last week I wrote about Bully Coaches; this week I look at the flip side, the awesome coach. I was inspired to write about what makes a coach great (if not outstanding) after reading an article in the WSJ about  a former Division I college basketball coach Jerry Wainwright who sends 300 to 500 handwritten notes with inspirational messages each week to former players, other coaches and managers.  Wainwright carefully chooses the message (usually it’s a quote), that is personally relevant to the recipient. Pretty awesome!

Granted, not all coaches can send handwritten messages, but there are other traits and actions that make a coach great, that go beyond being fair and skilled. I share here profiles of three outstanding coaches; real coaches that two of my three kids had over the years of playing sports in club, varsity and house leagues.  I describe what made these coaches great—my aim is to recognize coaching behaviors that bring out the best in kids, not just as athletes but as individuals.

Three Outstanding Coach Profiles

1. Take One for The Team. Both my sons played house league hockey—which meant a different volunteer coach each season. For the most part, they were all good. Though Coach Tom, the coach of my oldest son’s team when he was 16, was different—he walked the talk of the saying, ‘there’s no ‘I’ in team.  The team consisted mediocre players at best (of which my son was one), though there were two talented club players who played house league that season for fun.  Yet Coach Tom treated all players equal—focused not on individuals, but the team; he acknowledged assists more than the goals, gave equal playing time across the board, and curtailed ‘puck hogs’ by making the ‘hog’ sit out a shift or two. It was all about the team—no megastars allowed. Over the season, the team’s progress was stellar.  And this team, the team that Tom built, much to everyone’s surprise (except Tom’s) won the league championship.

2.  Coaching Winners. Another team (same son) house league again—with players aged 13 to 14 years old, covered the spectrum in terms of skill and ability. Players who had just learned to play hockey, to ones with tough family situations, including one boy who drove himself to practice (with a hardship driver’s license).  It’s no wonder the team lost—a lot. Yet it didn’t phase their coach. Coach Rob was positive, upbeat, supportive, and tried different hockey drills at every practice that must have needed the patience of a saint.

What made Coach Rob outstanding was not just his patience and positive attitude, but how Rob recognized each kid’s situation and figured out how the team could help that player. With our son it was providing confidence, for another it was playing hockey even though his single-mom couldn’t pay for it (Rob raised funds from other families to cover the boy’s expenses), for another it was a way to stay out of trouble. For Coach Rob it was not about coaching to win championships, but about giving each player a chance to win just by playing.

3. Individuals first—Students second—Athletes third.  My youngest son played varsity golf in high school. High school sports are tough, because even though NCAA guidelines state that academics come first, it doesn’t always work out that way. Golf especially is not a sport conducive to academics when during the season kids can miss one to two almost-full days of school to drive long distances to golf courses and play 18 holes. It wasn’t uncommon for my son to get home at 8 pm or later. Yet the two coaches walked-the-talk that academics came first—my son often would ask to miss a tournament if he had a math test, or a heavy work-load for that week. He wasn’t afraid to ask—there was never an issue. Another varsity player’s parents worked with the coaches to help get their son’s grades up by the coaches having the player sit out several tournaments, even though his GPA technically allowed him to play.

The coaches stressed time and again that golf was just a game, it wasn’t about winning, but playing with integrity, and bringing that integrity to school, to life.  My son had a tough decision in his junior year, to play on the golf team or start a (unsanctioned) bike team. One of the golf coaches mentored him through the decision; ‘follow your passion’ was his advice, do what you love, and do it with integrity. My son didn’t play golf that season and started “Hart Racing’.  He found his passion. Thank you Coach!

There are many, many good youth sports coaches and a handful of GREAT coaches that can have a significant impact on our kids not just as athletes, but as individuals.  These are the coaches to recognize, acknowledge and thank.  THANK YOU!


When Coaches are Bullies

No one likes a bully. Yet bullies exist in almost every setting where there is a relationship between two or more people. Sports Illustrated ran a special report this month, Abuse of Power’—an article about college coaches who berate, harass, put down, and in some cases push athletes beyond their physical limits using questionable methods (Wolff & Shute, 2015). The report describes a number of coaches ‘abusing’ college athletes under the guise of coaching. In one example former swim coach of Utah, Greg Winslow, ordered an athlete to swim underwater with a PVC pipe strapped to his back and another with a mesh bag over her head (Winslow is now banned for life from USA swimming). Then there’s the verbal abuse, like Rhode Island softball coach Erin Layton who threatened ill and injured athletes with comments such as ‘don’t ever get sick again’ or ‘I’m going to kill you’. Several of Layton’s athletes developed ulcers, eating disorders and inflicted self-harm.

Bullying is generally defined as a systematic abuse of power, in which a stronger individual exhibits a pattern of intimidating behavior against someone weaker or less powerful. The coach–athlete relationship involves an inherent imbalance of power, that is, a coach holds authority over his players by nature of his role. Bullying can have dramatic and long-lasting effects on its victims. It can impair social and emotional development and cause substantial harm to mental health. When the bullying occurs in an athletic setting, those harmful effects are augmented by the stress kids often feel as a result of athletic competition. — Bullying Behavior by Athletic Coaches, Pediatrics Perspectives

It’s easy and tempting given the disturbing nature of these events to brush them off as isolated incidents, to label them as rare—even to question the term ‘abuse’. Some may not consider verbal berating or intimidation as abuse, even though studies show that verbal abuse for young adults and adolescents is potentially harmful (Schinnerer, 2013).  This prompted me to dig deeper. How common are bully coaches, or at least bullying behaviors among college and youth sport coaches?

Bully Coaches in College Sports
I first looked at a two studies specific to college athletes: 1) GOALS  (Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning) conducted by NCAA to “study the experiences of student-athletes across all sports and NCAA divisions”, and another by the American College Health Association (ACHA) that examined athletes well-being.

What College Athletes Say
Both studies shed light on aspects of student-athletes physical and emotional well-being, perceptions and values; however below are highlights specific to students’ experiences with coaches and their perceptions of team culture.

  • Football—22% athletes reported that their coach “puts me down in front of others”
  • Men’s Basketball—31% reported their coach “puts me down in front of others”  — all other men’s sports: 20%
  • Women’s Basketball—25% reported their coach “puts me down in front of others” — all other women’s sports: 21%
  • Women’s Basketball—39% agreed that “my head coach can be trusted” (which means 61% don’t trust their coach), all other women’s sports: 48%
  • Football—50% agreed that “my head coach can be trusted”  —   all other men’s sports: 51% (which means only about 50% of student-athletes trust their coaches)
  • Baseball—48% reported “winning is more important to me that good sportsmanship” versus  Football at 50%, versus all other men’s sports at 36%.

Bully Coaches in Youth Sports
Sad_basketball_player_in_locker_roomBut what about younger athletes?  In most cases youth coaches provide positive experiences, and some coaches even become role models and mentors. With my three kids, we’ve had at least a three dozen coaches over the years, and most have been good to excellent— three or four were outstanding.  But some were not; three or four (now looking back) displayed bullying behaviours.  I hesitate to go so for as the label them as bullies, but some of their behaviours were.  Our experience is not uncommon.

What makes bullying behaviours challenging for parents is navigating the line between demanding coaches and bullies, which makes it challenging for parents to address. More so with  younger athletes, as younger children and sometimes adolescents aren’t able to verbalize what might be happening in practice when parents aren’t present, or how to describe how they are made to feel.

What Parents Can Do
So what can parents do? With college-age kids it’s tough since technically college kids are adults and likely they are living away from home. If your son or daughter speaks of bullying behaviours or you witness bullying behaviours on your child’s team, encourage your child to speak to someone at school; head of athletics, academic adviser or health counselor. Giving your kid confidence by showing your support is the best strategy.

With younger kids, the first step is awareness—knowing what’s going on in the practices, watching how the coach interacts with kids, as well as being sensitive to your child’s actions around practices and competitions. An article in the Family section of New York Times, ‘My Coach, the Bully‘ outlines some strategies for parents shared by a pediatrician Dr. Swigonski. She describes several real scenarios, and acknowledges challenges with addressing a coach’s behaviour that could result in team shunning, or reduced playing time. But the bottom line, according to another pediatrician “If an adult is hacking away at your child’s self-worth, you confront the bully and prepare to do the right thing,”

It’s a worthwhile read for any sports parent.

Helpful Reading


Book Review of “Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports”


“Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports” Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham. Potomoc Books.

‘Cheated’— an apt title. By the end of the book the reader is exposed to how college athletes are cheated out of an education, and how faculty and staff cheat by covering-up, bending the rules, and participating in academic fraud to usher athletes (mostly football and basketball players) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) through the system with paper classes, passing grades for poor or non-existent work, and elaborate systems of course and schedule manipulation to keep athletes playing to win. Written by Jay Smith, professor of history at UNC, and former academic advisor Mary Willingham, both who exposed the academic deception and fraud at UNC. Both authors received the Robert Maynard Hutchins Award for integrity in the face of college sport corruption.

The book is eye opening, discouraging, and distressing. It describes how gifted athletes, typically football players, arrive on campus severely under-prepared academically, lacking the basic skills needed for college-level course work. The school, in this instance UNC, perpetuates the problem by steering athletes to easy majors, creating paper classes (which typically requires only a paper to be turned in at the end of the semester in order for the student to receive credit), providing tutors that help students navigate the system to get through by completing as little school work as possible, and other complex arrangements within departments where faculty and administrators are more concerned about ‘winning’ than athletes’ education.

You may have read about this story; it received significant media attention when Willingham, an  academic advisor at UNC (she has since left UNC), brought the situation to light. When the book was published in March of 2015 there was much backlash from numerous stakeholders, including UNC administrators and faculty, alumni, booster clubs and fans. Backlash was directed at the book itself, the ‘allegations’ (though validated as accurate by auditors), and the authors. Unfortunately harassment and badgering of the authors and their families continues still. The ongoing harassment forced Ms. Willingham to withdraw aspects of the social media campaign to promote the literacy program, PC Read, developed for academically under-prepared college-age students. You can read more on the book’s blog site, here.

Closing Thoughts
Few want to admit that college athletics have a dark side, and the ‘few’ make up many—school administrators, coaches, booster clubs with their (generous) alumni, and fans. Sadly, the story of UNC is a recurring one—playing out at colleges throughout the US; UNC does not stand alone.  “Cheated” is wake-up for academia, coaches, NCAA, parents and athletes. There’s much at stake for all involved, yet it’s a large group of student athletes who have the most lose; they are the biggest losers, ‘cheated’ out of a rigorous college education that sets them up for life, instead of failure.

Further Reading:

“Backspin” Takes the ‘Spin’ Out of What it Takes to Be a Scholarship-Athlete


“Backspin” book cover. http://www.coachstrobl.com/backspin

Backspin” is a highly entertaining memoir of basketball player Pete Strobl a scholarship athlete turned professional, playing for several European leagues between the years 2000 and 2008. Strobl’s passion for the sport and his gift for writing make the book a great read for all audiences, though the experiences Strobl shares about playing as a college athlete and his journey after college to pursue his dreams of the big leagues, provide valuable insight for aspiring college-scholarship athletes and their parents. “Backspin” begins with Strobl sharing his often amusing, experiences at a small-town college, Niagara University, on the east coast in New York State and a long way away from his home state California. The latter two-thirds of the book Strobl describes his turbulent career as a professional athlete playing for several teams within European Basketball leagues in countries that included France, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Switzerland over a period of nine seasons.

The ‘Backspins’
The ‘backspin’ segments within the chapters are brief snippets of Strobl’s life experiences pre-college days that give the reader insight into his tenacity and drive for not just the sport, but his approach to life. My favorite vignettes are the ones featuring Strobl and his dad, which reveal not only the deep influence of Strobl’s dad had on his character, but are touching, funny and real.

Three Helpful Lessons for Potential College Athletes and Parents
Between the pages the book holds helpful lessons for young athletes—either current college athletes or aspiring scholarship-athletes and their parents. It’s not a how-to book, but by reading of Strobl’s experiences coping with school, coaches, relationships and travel, the reader gets a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities of a college athlete. Three themes emerged from the book that may be of value for student-athletes and their families; summarized below.

1)  The Scholarship-athlete’s Multiple Roles
A scholarship-athlete’s college experience greatly differs from a traditional student’s experience, which Strobl highlights perhaps unintentionally in his book. Strobl writes of his experiences in college and his multiple roles and the challenges associated with each. The roles include: student, athlete, scholarship-athlete and teammate, but it’s the role scholarship-athlete that appeared to be most challenging which Strobl recounts as:

“Playing basketball at this level was practically a full-time job, and the value of my full scholarship wasn’t lost on me. I knew I’d have to deliver on the court if I expected to stay on campus, and that required me to work harder than I ever had in the past. If that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I had a second full-time job—staying on track to earn a college degree.” (p. 33)

Strobl also gives the reader insight into the student’s role; he describes accounting for every minute of his day, which according to Strobl was “the key to survival” (p. 33). It’s evident that he worked hard, and was able to balance his multiple roles successfully; Pete finished with not only an under-graduate degree, but also a MBA. Impressive.

Not surprisingly in order to handle all his roles, sacrifices were made, typical of most college athletes that play for a varsity team. Strobl mentions the sacrifices that he made for his scholarship experience, primarily his social life and friendships, “Between hustling back and forth from the library, the gym, cafeteria and weight room, there wasn’t much time left for anything or anyone else” (p. 66).

Takeaway: Scholarships can provide tremendous opportunities for young athletes to study at a school they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to attend if it weren’t for their sport, or have been able to afford, not to mention the experiences that can lead to fulfilling careers. However, the key to leveraging these opportunities is for the athlete and families to weigh the pros and cons of a scholarship offer, consider all factors and potential outcomes. Frequently, the cons outweigh the pros, and student-athletes don’t realize it until well into their first year. Considerations student-athletes and parents may want to consider when evaluating athletic-scholarship options:

  • total cost of attending the school; the costs not covered by scholarship
  • risks associated with a sports scholarship (injury, performance, etc.)—consider what the outcomes might be if the scholarship was not renewed in the 2nd or 3rd year
  • fit between the athlete’s long-term career goals and what can be studied at the school, for example some programs require demanding workloads not compatible with pressures of a varsity athlete
  • academic sacrifices which may include study abroad or work-study programs, research opportunities or internships
  • value of the education associated with the school and program of study once the athlete is in the working world.

2) Leverage the Experiences Both Good and Bad
What makes the “Backspin” such an excellent read is the stories Strobl shares which are not only the highlights of his basketball career, but are of his disappointments, challenges and struggles.  His career in Europe playing for several leagues is not all glamour, but reflects hard work, with Strobl often working with a great deal of uncertainty. His job was not guaranteed for longer than a season or two, he was often in a country where he didn’t speak the language, even the same one as his coach and often had to move to another country with little more than a days notice. Yet Strobl descriptions are inspirational at the same time. Strobl appeared to make the best of every situation, for instance even when he was benched for most of a season in college (p. 47) or working for a team that was broke and wasn’t paying its athletes, he was able to turn those into positives.

Takeaway: Experiences playing as a college-athlete and beyond are filled with favorable and seemingly negative experiences, though even the negatives can be turned into circumstances for reflection that can lead to personal growth, and opportunity. This is takeaway is not a cliché when you read “Backspin”.

3)  Who’s looking Out For You?  You.
This may sound harsh, but a scholarship contract between an athlete and a school is akin to a business transaction. It’s helpful to keep in mind that coaches are paid by universities to manage and coach a team to achieve a certain level of performance, and are also under a contract. Strobl writes of many instances of very positive relationships with his coaches, and many of his coaches that provide instructive life lessons, yet there are times his experience reveal that coaches actions and decisions are not always made in best interest of the athletes.

Takeaway: Athletes need to put their needs first, and be smart about what is being offered by administrators and coaches. Getting the most value out of a scholarship opportunity is essential for the athlete and his or her family.

“Backspin” is an excellent read, and an especially informative read for any scholarship-athlete. I wanted to learn more about what Strobl did after his basketball career, which I discovered through his site thescoringfactory.com, which is a basketball development program and organization which Strobl started with his wife, also a former basketball pro that played for several European leagues. Not surprising that Strobls’ hard work, extensive experience and talent all come together in his company, The Scoring factory.

Related Reading:





What Happens When Young Athletes Have an Identity Crisis

identity-crisis-300x300Part of a child’s growing up and becoming a young adult involves developing his or her identify—a sense of self, an answer to the question ‘who am I’.  But what happens when a child or teenager develops an athletic identify – for instance ‘I am a baseball player’, or I am a tennis player’ to the exclusion of all else?

Before we examine the latter, it’s important to note the positive effects associated with children displaying an athletic identify. Children that associate themselves with a sports team, or as an athlete that plays for a team, are displaying healthy behaviours that are part the process of building a personal identify.  According to sports psychologists doing so contributes to confidence and healthy self-esteem.

Identity Foreclosure
However, here is where things can go sideways. It seems if our kids aren’t exposed to experiences that allow them to associate themselves with other roles as they are developing and maturing, they can become stuck; their emotional development is hindered.  Psychologists call this identity foreclosure, which occurs when adolescents commit to a role – i.e. an athletic sports role, ‘football player’, ‘tennis player’ [or other such as dancer, performer etc.]. Children then are at risk of committing to a direction, whether it be career path, school choice etc., based upon what they know. Hence the child  forecloses on one type of activity without knowing what else is out there. I’ve seen this manifest itself in young athletes where they express feelings of being ‘trapped’ in a sport—that they can’t envision what their life would be without it. Even if they want to try something else they are often afraid to express the desire to do so.

Sports psychologist, Dr.C. Stankovitch writes this:

For athletes, though, there is a potentially dangerous identity status that can lead to future unforeseen problems.  What I am talking about is when athletes go through an identity foreclosure status, where they prematurely and exclusively only see themselves as athletes.  When a person forecloses their identity, problems can develop since all other life development and exploration is suspended in light of the one single identity role.”   The Sports Doc

The Risks
I’ve seen this happen with one of my own kids in a sport that this child was very good at—and the effects can be quite devastating.  A young athlete who prematurely forecloses on being an “athlete” of one sport especially—a sport that is played year round, for many hours each week from an early age, to the exclusion of much else, is at risk. One psychologist outlines the risks as follows:

  • Emotional Difficulties Dealing with Injury: Injuries are an inevitable part of sport. Athletes with an exclusive athletic identity often find it difficult to cope with an injury, especially if it results in them being side-lined for a prolonged period of time. They tend to lose confidence and may experience feelings of helplessness.
  • Alternate Career or Educational Options Not Considered: If a teen selects a school or college major based upon their sport, life and career options can appear limited to the child after ‘retirement’ from the sport.
  • Difficulty Adjusting After end of Athletic Career. 

How to Help
Fortunately, in our situation we caught it early—in the early teens.  I could see in real-life what the psychologists described as foreclosure identity.  If the sport is gone my child rationalized, that I am so good at—that people know me for, who am I? I’m not good at anything else except for the sport.  Awareness of potential risks is the starting point for parents and coaches, according to Dr. Stankovitch. He suggests the following:

It is for this reason that we as adults need to make regular attempts to discuss and reinforce all facets of a kid’s personality – not just athletics.  Be sure to recognize the other roles kids often experience, like student, club member, volunteer, musician, and artist.  Holistic identity development will not limit athletic success, but it will instead enhance all facets of the human experience!  Dr. Stankovitch, The Sports Doc

Further Reading:

Parents Spend More Money on Youth Sports than Saving for College

iStock_000002308797XSmallHaving children is expensive; and these kids of ours—as cute as they are, require a significant amount of resources. I saw a sign in my bank the other day that said ‘Do you know it takes $241,080 to raise a child?’  Really. And that’s only up to the age of 18, which means the $241,080 doesn’t include money for college. Add another hundred thousand or so for college or university, at least. Caching ($). If you have more than one child, Caching, Caching ($$), and if more three kids [or more] like I do then it’s… a lot ($$$). Let’s just say it takes vast sums of the green stuff to raise a family.

Coincidently, on the same day that I spotted the sign I read an article reporting on a survey that found parents are putting a priority on spending for their kids’ sports [in this case hockey] rather than saving for their kids’ college education. It went on to say that many parents are dipping into their retirement savings to fund their kids’ extracurricular activities.

“Among the most surprising findings, Lewis said, was that 61 per cent of parents said they, or someone they know, borrowed money or used retirement savings to put a child through hockey or another extracurricular.”


“Fewer than half of Canadians are saving for a post-secondary education,” Lewis said, citing federal statistics that 45 per cent of households have RESPs. “It’s the contrast of those two … They’re [parents] prepared to go into debt to fund an extracurricular activity, and at the same time aren’t actually setting aside the money for their child’s post-secondary education.“  Cary Mills, Ottawa Citizen

Granted this article is from a Canadian newspaper, and features Canadian statistics [RESP’s are equivalent to 529 plans in the United States] however there are thousands of U.S. families in the same boat. I know many families that spend thousands of dollars each year on their children’s sports activities; expenses are not just high for participation but it’s the travel expenses that add up to the thousands.

College_graduate_studentsThen There’s College…
Unfortunately there are few families that have the yearly income to support the costs associated with competitive sports, and putting money aside each year for their kids’ college education. Higher education is not cheap as parents are fully aware. According to the College Board in the US, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2012–2013 school year was $29,056 at private colleges, $8,655 for state residents at public colleges, and $21,706 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. In Canada the average university tuition fees for one year are far less than in the United States, $5,581 per year [on average]. These fees are for tuition only, and when adding room and board, books, etc. the numbers are substantially more.

Is college/university worth it?  Even though there has been much discussion lately about the value of a college education, the employment wage statistics say absolutely yes.  Over a lifetime an individual with a college education [either a two-year or four-year degree] will earn considerably more than someone with only a high school education (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  For instance, students with a bachelor’s degree make 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates.  

All this to say, that one of the best things parents can do for their children to set them up to be independent and successful adults is to ensure that they attend some form of higher education—whether it be for a vocational diploma from a two-year institution, an associate degree from a public college, or a four-year undergraduate education. Preparing our children for college requires more than finances, which I’ll address in another article, however having the financial resources and a funding plan is critical.

What About Sports Scholarships?
One argument parents put forth for spending money on youth sports, [especially club sports where a child is vested in the sport and is very good at it] is that the child has a chance of earning a sports scholarship that will pay for college. The rationale is to invest the money now in the child and get the payback later via a sports scholarship. Yes, it is possible, however the odds are not in favor of getting a full scholarship that will pay for even the majority of the costs associated with attending college. It’s a utopian dream for most. The statistics are not favorable for the average high school athlete that plays a varsity sport, even if they are at the top of their game. Only about 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. There is an excellent article in the NYT that provides some statistics, and I’ve included a link below that outlines the number of scholarships schools [by division] are allowed to grant each year. Here is a snippet from the NYT articles:

“Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.” (NYT)

Raising children is expensive—yet saving for kids college education is one of the best expenditures parents can make during their kids 0 to 18 years, while spending on youth sports…not so much. Knowing the facts can help parents make good decisions about their kids well-being, and future.