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.


The Myth of the Sports Scholarship

I don’t think I’ll be bursting anyone’s bubble to write that students who go to college on a sports scholarship are ‘working’ for the college – are essentially employees. The job is demanding, and not for the faint of heart. The select few of paid athlete-students, are reimbursed with a portion of college costs, (in rare cases a full-ride), academic tutors, priority registration for classes and in return are expected to compete, practice and represent his or her respective college. Oh, and of course study, go to class and forge new relationships and [hopefully] figure out a career path of some sort to follow at the end of four if not five years.

Sound good so far?  There’s more –  schedules are grueling, early morning practices, weekly conditioning sessions, ‘voluntary’ practices (anything over 20 hours per week is  ‘voluntary’). On top of this keep in mind that these athlete-students need to keep up with school work, attend classes, make-up missed classes, complete assignments and study for exams.

An exaggeration? I don’t think I’m far off. One athlete-student on a football scholarship shares his view with journalist Gary Smith from Sport Illustrated in a recent article;  Wonman Joseph Williams, a fourth-string defensive back for University of Virginia says this:

“It’s like a job,” says Joseph. “We’re only students to a certain extent. Sports have become such a big money-maker that it’s all about the bottom line, like so much else in our society. It not only limits your potential to pursue academics but punishes you when your dedication to academics interferes with your sport. Most football and basketball players can’t take any of the difficult classes. You’re not able to take advantage of what these great schools have to offer. It’s not even amateur athletics anymore. It’s professional.”  (Smith, 2012)

What about AthleteStudent part?
As Williams stated it’s a job. And that ‘job’ is far more demanding than a part-time job at the local college coffee shop. There is a price to pay for being a athlete-student, and the price is fulfillment of academic, intellectual and personal growth. One of Smith’s professor’s at University of Virginia, Harry Edwards, admits that the athletes do miss out, in a big way. More often than not professor Edwards sees academically curious students who just can’t invest the time or energy in their studies even if they want to.

“It’s a horrific schedule,” says Edwards, who over the last three decades has watched athletes stop taking classes that start after 1 p.m., classes with labs, classes that require their time on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. Study abroad in the off-season, even if you’re a Division III relief pitcher? Don’t be silly.” Harry Edwards, Sociology Professor, former a track and field and basketball star at San Jose State in the early ’60s. (Smith, 2012). 

What is the answer to this dilemma? How can we support our kids to be well-rounded, capable, intellectually curious adults that are able to pursue a path that leads to an adulthood that is fulfilling? Education is part of the answer, as is freedom to build relationships with diverse people, and pursue academics interests. However working at a ‘job’ that involves more than 20 hours a week of commitment, that is physically and emotionally demanding, is not conducive to studying, pursuing academic interests, growing intellectually and building relationships. That my friends, is the great myth of the sports scholarship.

Why don’t more Athletes take a Stand? Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated, July 9, 2012
How Youth Sports Encourages Kids to be Dullards, Bob Cook, Blog Post