Home    Clinics    Tournaments    Forum    Clearinghouse    Links    Comments


Year-round sports push kids to limit
Families are pouring in more time and money -- and more athletes are burning out.
By Joe Christensen Star Tribune OCTOBER 15, 2017 -- 9:10AM

The sport Kali O'Keeffe loved at age 12 had turned into a chore, devouring her free time, leaving her out of touch with friends.

She was the starting second baseman for Chanhassen High School's softball team by eighth grade and a major college recruit by 15. But O'Keeffe reached a breaking point before her junior year, on the way back from Tennessee, where her club team had played in a national tournament.

Three hectic years traveling to tournaments across the country and spending countless nights inside a batting cage had taken a toll. She sat down next to her father on a curb outside their roadside hotel. Crying, she told him the pressure of playing year-round softball was just too much.

"When I told my parents, I felt so bad," she said. "They had spent so much money on softball, and I just didn't want to do it anymore."

O'Keeffe is among a generation of Minnesota athletes who have pushed themselves to extremes, developing highly polished skills through year-round dedication to their sport, while their families make major investments of money and time. Her father, Bryan, said the family spent a minimum of $7,500 per year on softball, adding, "That could be on the conservative side."

Youth sports are an estimated $15 billion industry, and the increasing specialization of these budding athletes is irrevocably changing Minnesota's high school landscape in softball, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball and lacrosse -- basically, every team sport except football.

The offseason is disappearing, fueled by an explosion of pay-to-play club sports that have scores of young athletes training year-round. While a select few, such as O'Keeffe, become good enough to attract college scholarships, others devote countless extra hours in the quest to make varsity teams.

In the never-ending blur of year-round practices and games, the importance of the high school season itself is shrinking, to the chagrin of many coaches.

"The genie's out of the bottle now," Totino-Grace activities director Mike Smith said. "I don't know how you're going to reverse it. These athletes just don't have very long to be a kid."

The Hill-Murray boys' hockey team, for example, practices with its coach five days per week -- in July. The morning after the state volleyball tournament ends next month, hundreds of girls will flock right back to the gym for club volleyball tryouts the next morning. The same happens with basketball.

Teen athletes and their families spend thousands to play for club teams, attend skill-instruction camps and hire personal trainers and college recruiting advisers. A local baseball recruiting service offers a $2,400 guarantee that the teen will play college baseball -- or their money back.

"You see families that can't afford to buy groceries, but they'll somehow find a way to get a thousand-dollar pair of skates and get to New York," Hill-Murray boys' hockey coach Bill Lechner said. "It scares me; our priorities are out of whack."

A Star Tribune survey of metro-area coaches, which drew about 140 responses, found that most varsity athletes in volleyball, soccer, basketball, hockey, softball and baseball spend as much time on their sport during the offseason as they do during the high school season. Coaches in volleyball and boys' and girls' soccer reported the highest rates of offseason play by their athletes, sometimes reaching 90 percent.

Chanhassen softball coach Joe Coenen supported O'Keeffe's decision to drop club softball and continue playing varsity ball in the spring. O'Keeffe returned to help the high school win the 2016 Class 4A state championship.

Now she's a freshman at the University of Minnesota, studying nursing, and happily retired from sports. Meanwhile, Coenen said he has a sophomore going through the same stress O'Keeffe did.

"Her whole summer is softball," Coenen said. "For some people, it makes them despise the sport. But for every kid out there whose family would love to cut back, there's a kid who wants to do more."

How it's changed

Lechner remembers a much more leisurely pace to sports when he graduated from Cretin High School in 1971. He and his friends played in a Roseville summer hockey league, nothing that frequently interfered with baseball and summer revelry.

Now Lechner runs a summer camp that's "optional" but always well-attended for his Hill-Murray boys' hockey team. Hockey coaches at Wayzata, Bloomington Jefferson and other prominent metro-area programs run these summer camps, too, with parents footing the bill.

"I live on a lake. I coach baseball. I want to golf," Lechner said. "It's not mandatory to run a summer camp, but if I don't, they'd hit me over the head."

The Minnesota State High School League didn't allow coaches to work with players during the summer until 1998. The league had faced pressure from parents who felt their sons and daughters couldn't maximize their potential under the old system.

"Our kids were running off and spending thousands of dollars for training in the offseason," Bloomington Jefferson boys' hockey coach Jeff Lindquist said. "We just felt it was a time to let them train in our community."

The measure, allowing coaching instruction from June 1 to July 31, passed 79-9.

Faribault Bethlehem Academy volleyball coach Franz Boelter was among the nine who voted no, citing the added time commitment being asked of athletes. Now he has worked summer practice sessions into his calendar, and the Cardinals have won seven state championships since 2002.

"I worry that we are asking so much of our kids who are never going to play more than varsity," Boelter said. "They get tired of us."

Football is a different animal. For safety reasons, the high school league limits coaches to 11 full-contact summer football practices.

Kevin Merkle, a former league associate director, said football coaches appreciate that rule because they "can have some time off" knowing "the coach down the road in the next town isn't doing anything more either."

Competing training options

Taylor Manno was the starting pitcher for Chanhassen in the 2016 Class 4A softball championship game. But there was a four-hour rain delay, and when play resumed, Manno was gone. She had a flight to catch to New Jersey, where her club softball team was beginning a tournament the next day.

Manno's teammates, including many like herself who played year-round, didn't blink. They recognized Manno's need to showcase her talents that weekend for East Coast coaches. Sure enough, Manno received a scholarship to play at New Jersey-based Rutgers.

"I don't really regret it because the tournament I went to was the reason Rutgers recruited me," Manno said. "The only part I regret is not being able to celebrate [the state championship] with my teammates."

Athletic directors said stories such as Manno's are becoming more commonplace, citing examples of top basketball players missing high school playoff games to attend national soccer tournaments, and top high school baseball players missing games to go play hockey.

When they aren't playing games, these athletes most likely are working out, often paying trainers to help them.

Former Minneapolis North and University of Connecticut standout Khalid El-Amin runs Ultimate Hoops out of Life Time Fitness in St. Louis Park. Clients pay him between $40 and $100 for hour-long basketball instruction sessions.

Trevor Morning, head performance specialist at Englebert Training Systems (ETS) in Lakeville, said about 500 high school athletes work with trainers through the facility, including several teams from Lakeville North High School. A year-round package at ETS costs about $199 per month.

"To be honest, all athletes should be training year-round," Morning said. "That helps with injury prevention, maintaining strength and maintaining mobility."

For families seeking extra help attracting college recruiters, there's help available -- at a price. The Baseball Advising Team is one example, assuring clients they'll play college baseball for $2,400. It works with the Hit Dawg Academy in Chaska, creating a training regimen to follow while the company networks with college coaches on players' behalf.

"I believe that anybody who wants to play college baseball can," said Matt Paulsen, the company's founder. "It doesn't mean you're going to be playing for Florida State."

While some athletes and their families can approach these pursuits with open checkbooks, others can't. In 2016, children from families making $25,000 or less were only half as likely to take part in a team sport as families making at least $100,000, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

In modern youth sports, overall participation numbers for team sports are declining. In 2016, about 36.9 percent of children ages 6 to 12 participated in a team sport on a regular basis, down from 44.5 percent in 2008, according to the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

"When you play a bigger school, you're not necessarily playing the best athletes in the school," said Mike Grant, Eden Prairie's football coach and activities director. "You're just playing the people that have spent the most money and more time in the gym."

The multisport challenge

Luke Rooker is trying to buck the trend of specializing in one sport. The Totino-Grace freshman plays football and hockey.

"I tell people, ‘Hockey is 13 months a year,' " his father, Tom Rooker, said.

When football practice started in August, Luke also played in the Easton Cup, a hockey tournament featuring the top hockey clubs in the Upper Midwest.

One day that week, Rooker arrived at the high school at 7:30 a.m. for football meetings. Football practice lasted until about 11:30. Rooker grabbed lunch, then headed for the Super Rink in Blaine for two hockey games. By the time he got home, it was 9:30 p.m.

"I was a little bit worn out," Rooker said, smiling. "I just wanted to sleep."

The next day, Rooker was back inside the Super Rink for two more hockey games, as temperatures outside climbed above 80 degrees.

"It's the nicest day all week, and we're sitting in an ice rink," said Tom Rooker, perched over a railing, watching his 6-2, 215-pound son play.

Tom Rooker appreciates that Luke's coach with the Minnesota Icemen club team schedules only three tournaments, all in Minnesota. The team practices two to three times per week.

Even without travel, it's not cheap. Luke also attends a skating camp led by former NHL defenseman Dave Langevin and former Gophers and North Stars winger Scott Bjugstad's shooting camp.

Asked how much the family spends just on hockey, Tom Rooker said, "I'd hate to look at the number. And we're on the low end."

Specialization spreads

Orono boys' basketball coach Barry Wohler can relate to what Rooker aspires to be. But Wohler had it easier.

Wohler led Bird Island-Lake Lillian to back-to-back football and basketball state championships in high school. He played baseball and basketball for the Gophers in the early 1980s and played baseball professionally, climbing as high as Class AAA.

"If the rules were what they are today, I wouldn't have played baseball," Wohler said. "I loved basketball. I would have gone to all of those AAU tournaments and wouldn't have had time for anything else."

On last year's Maple Grove girls' soccer team, 19 of the 21 varsity players were strictly soccer players, having shed obligations for any other sport.

In a University of Wisconsin study released this summer, 30 percent of the 12-year-old athletes surveyed already were highly specialized in one sport, meaning they trained at least eight months per year for that sport and had quit one sport to focus on another. By age 15, the number of highly specialized athletes was 47 percent.

If scholarships are the goal, there are no guarantees. According to the NCAA, only 2 percent of all high school athletes receive some form of college scholarship. Four years ago, UCLA researchers surveyed 296 Division I athletes and found that 70 percent of them waited to specialize in one sport until at least age 12.

"There's this myth out there that the reason kids specialize is to get a college scholarship," said Timothy McGuine, who led the Wisconsin study. "Talking to parents and kids, we started seeing that specialization was really about just getting on their high school team."

Micki Husnik echoed that this August, watching daughter Lauren compete for North Branch in a preseason volleyball tournament in Burnsville. Lauren Husnik isn't on a mission to play college volleyball; she just loves being part of a North Branch team that made the state tournament two years ago.

"To be a good varsity player, you have to commit yourself year-round," Micki Husnik said. "Like we always tell her, there's always somebody getting better, faster, stronger -- ready to take your spot."

Injury risk increases

McGuine's study gathered data from 29 Wisconsin high school athletic departments, studying 1,544 injuries. The conclusions showed that athletes who specialized in one sport were about 50 percent more likely than nonspecialized athletes to suffer lower-body injuries, such as ankle sprains, knee tendinitis and stress fractures.

Dr. Heather Bergeson, who specializes in overuse injuries for Tria Orthopaedic Center in the Twin Cities, said she is seeing more foot stress fractures among youth soccer players and more elbow ligament replacement surgeries among youth baseball players.

To help protect young arms, the high school league adopted new pitch count rules this year, capping the number of pitches any player can throw in one day. Pitchers who throw more than 50 pitches must receive at least two days of rest before pitching again.

Bergeson also has seen an increase in lower-back stress fractures, including some in patients as young as 8. She said this used to be primarily a gymnastics injury, but she's seeing it from volleyball, basketball and hockey.

"It's a real epidemic of overuse injuries," Bergeson said.

Grinding away

Kali O'Keeffe liked everything about club softball when she started playing for the Minnesota Renegades after sixth grade.

"The coaches were phenomenal," she said. "We'd hit all the time, and they took video of your swing. That's where I saw the most improvement."

Over the years, the Renegades played tournaments from Tennessee to California. But heading into her junior year, O'Keeffe had reached her limit.

The club team's summer regimen included a four-hour morning practice. There was an afternoon break, but the team might have a 5 p.m. game in Rosemount, for example, so there would be another car pool, with players arriving two hours before first pitch. Sometimes at weekend tournaments, the team would be up until 11:30 p.m., analyzing video.

"At the end of the summer, it was like I didn't have a summer, all I had was softball," O'Keeffe said. "It got to the point where I was losing sleep over it because I wanted to have memories with my friends."

During the winter, O'Keeffe juggled softball and hockey, but softball was the primary focus. She drew interest from Indiana, Loyola (Chicago), Northern Iowa and St. Thomas before shutting down her recruiting after the curbside conversation with her dad.

"She made her decision, and we supported it," Bryan O'Keeffe said. "She didn't want her legacy to be known strictly as a softball player. There's so much more to her as a person."

The future

Last March, the Arizona Interscholastic Association passed a rule allowing its high school coaches to work with players not just during the season and summer, but year-round.

"I can't wrap my head around how that's good for a kid year-round," said Smith at Totino-Grace.

Long a hockey mecca, Minnesota has become a growing hotbed for college volleyball, basketball and softball recruits, with increasing visibility for athletes in baseball, soccer and lacrosse. Success breeds success, but if Arizona's decision is any indication, the Minnesota State High School League could face increasing pressure to loosen coaching restrictions.

Asked to predict what Minnesota high school sports will look like in 20 years, Wohler said he wonders if all sports will be run through clubs, instead of the high schools. That's the European way.

Meantime, increasingly younger American children are taking their training year-round. Some make that decision even before middle school.

"That's just sad," Kali O'Keeffe said. "I feel bad for kids who don't know what they're getting into."

Source: Star Tribune


Positive Coaching Alliance: NFL Protests

For those of us coaching (and sports parenting) on sidelines of youth and high school games this fall, the controversy swirling around the NFL may feel distant from our day-to-day sports experience. We at Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) encourage you to think about how the present situation can be used as a "teachable moment." In your specific role, why and how might you talk to youth about what they're seeing?

If you're an athletic director

  • Have you talked with your coaches about whether they have addressed the protests with their athletes? These issues are deep, complex and emotionally charged, and your coaches will appreciate having you as a sounding board.

  • Have you talked with your coaches about how they might respond if their athletes want to show some form of protest during one of their competitions? Again, coaches will appreciate having thought this through ahead of time, so they are not caught off guard in the moment.

If you're a coach

  • Have you heard your players talking about what they're seeing on TV at the NFL games? How have you chosen to weigh in (or not weigh in) on these conversations? How might not weighing in be interpreted by your team?

  • What would you do if your players (or a single athlete) told you they wanted to have a form of peaceful protest at one of your competitions? Being ready for this sort of discussion will serve you well.

  • How will you react if one of your athletes surprises you with a form of peaceful protest at one of your competitions?

If you're a sports parent

  • Don't assume your child is too young to be aware of what is taking place at NFL games. We've heard from parents who asked their kids if they were aware and were surprised by the detailed answers they received.

  • Start by asking your child questions - rather than giving a lengthy explanation of where you personally stand on the issue. If you go first, you may never hear what your child thinks, and you'll learn a lot by letting him or her speak first.

  • It's OK to model not having all of the answers: "This is a really tough topic. Let's talk about what's happening and figure out how we feel about it together."

Based on our experiences talking with athletic directors, coaches, parents, and athletes about these current events, we know these conversations can be powerful learning experiences for all involved. Together, let's make the most of them.


FastSports Site Update

Tournaments for 2018, even for early 2018, are not being posted on FastSports in 2017. It's part of the change in the site that will see many of the features eliminated completely on January 1, 2018.

The site may not be gone completely.  It may just have a transformation.  Tournament Listings (ironically the most popular part of the site) and the Clearinghouse functions, including athletes looking for teams, teams looking for athletes, and teams looking for coaches, will all be discontinued.  The page of links will also be discontinued.

Areas I'm contemplating keeping or expanding:  Clinics, but only non-commercial clinics.  That means the clinic would have to be either free or associated with a educational institution.  This was the first reason FastSports came into existance.  You can see by the article/opinion below, why I think clinics are important.

Another expansion area will be opinions.  They'll mostly be mine or if someone wants to send some in that are fairly well written, I may choose to add those too.  Unlike the forum, where there was an opportunity to provide heated feedback, that won't be the case going forward.  This will be more like the newspaper.  You can write to the editor and your viewpoint or counterpoint may be printed.  I'm sure there will be people that disagree with me and think I'm out of touch with the realities of today's youth sports.  I'm okay with that.

I'm trying to figure out a way to expand the number of photographs and the number of athletes that have their photograph taken.  I don't usually know where I'm going to end up on any given weekend and I usually take a lot of photos of girls that I'm coaching or have coached.  I need to get out and take more photos of other athletes and other teams.  I'll be working on that.

Expansion to other sports..  FastSports has been 100% fastpitch softball related since its' inception.  With photography, it may expand to other sports.

You have cameras in your phones.  You tend to use them to take the photos of the athletes when they're not on the field.  You have a lot of photos of girls standing with friends, biting on the latest medal that they've won.  Those are great.  But you rarely get close up photos of them playing the game.  I'm not an "action photographer".  I don't even consider myself a "sports photographer" most of the time.  My goal in photography is to see your daughter's smiles, determination, strength, beauty, stubborness, grit, while she's on the field.  That doesn't mean it will be the diving catch at short.  It means there may be some photos of her face when she's up to bat.  It may be focus when playing shortstop.  It could be the determination to beat the throw while running to 1st.  I like faces in my photos.  You have to ask yourself if you can get those photos with your smartphone camera.  If not, are you willing to pay to have those photos to look back on.  I take almost 100% of the photos displayed on FastSports.  If you'd like these types of photos of your team there are options for bulk pricing and single photo pricing.  My only requirement is to have access to the dugouts on both sides of the field.  You can contact me through the comments section on FastSports if you have questions.

Thanks for everything!

Vince Muehe


Dome Ball or College Clinics?
Editorial Opinion by Vince Muehe

I recently saw an ad for dome softball and all of the reasons athletes should play dome ball.

It's interesting that some of the same people that sponsor dome ball also sponsor college showcases to bring in college showcases and will tell you how important those are for the athlete's future in college sports. If you have a daughter that is interested in playing college ball, I'm going to try and make a case against dome ball and for going to clinics at colleges in the area. The first reason the advertiser had for playing dome ball is that they get at least one hour to warm-up and practice before games. That's nice. I've been to the domes. It's not like you get to practice on anything like a full field. The warm-up time is definitely needed, because some of the domes are running 48-54 degrees in mid-winter. Without warming up, there is a greater opportunity for injury.

In that one hour of warm-up, how many times does each athlete get to handle the ball and swing the bat. How much instruction is being provided? How many college coaches are watching? The second reason for playing dome ball was directed at pitchers. They state they use dome ball to stay sharp and get a chance to work on their craft against great hitters. I've always believed that pitchers are made in the off-season. We need to work on breaking bad habits, enforcing good mechanics, and learning new techniques. When we move to a competitive game situation, pitchers are told what to throw with the objective of winning the game. They will have a tendency to call pitches that work, not ones that the pitcher is learning. And the pitcher, if working to correct mechanics, generally falls back on known poor mechanics unless there has been enough repetition and practice to have overcome them. The pitcher may get 20-30 minutes of practice pitching during the warm-up and practice session. And she will get half the time on the field if the teams are equally matched and she's the only pitcher for two games (highly unlikely). And because we have to wait for batters, umpires, the play of the game, etc., she may only pitch 70 pitches in a day during the games and maybe 100 pitches during the warm-up and practice. She didn't get any instruction. How many college coaches saw her?

Strong coaches is the third reason. I'll hand this one to you. There are some good coaches in youth softball. There are some good fundamental coaches. There are good game coaches. There are a few that have both skills. And in that hour of warm-up and practice, I've seen very few coaches actually coaching skills. During a game there's some game coaching and maybe a bit of instruction, but it's not like the hands-on coaching your daughter would receive in a clinic. It's very difficult to teach the game and play the game simultaneously, unless it's designed as a teaching scrimmage and play can stop for the purpose of instruction. That doesn't happen in dome ball. None of the dome ball coaches are college coaches.

A friendly atmosphere is touted as another reason to play dome softball. I suppose it's as friendly as any competitive event in youth sports. We still have a few parents bickering about playing time, playing time in key positions, the level of coaching, etc. It's not uncommon to see some face-to-face confrontation between parents, parents and coaches, coaches and umpires, and even parents and umpires. Notice the athletes are seldom involved in that part of the "friendly atmosphere". I'm thankful for that.

If we looked at the friendly atmosphere of a some softball game and a clinic, I think the positive feedback and instruction in the clinic is going to be far friendlier than that experienced in most game situations. College coaches don't often do much more than teach and praise in their clinics. Then we have scheduling and money. Dome softball is on a strict schedule. You pay your money and if you can't make it one weekend, you're out the money for that weekend. If you choose not to go to a clinic one weekend, you save your money and go to a longer clinic the next weekend. You make the determination of the time and distance you want to travel for each clinic.

Let's say you play seven days in a dome ball session. The price is $4200 for the team. That's $600 per team per day. Divide the $600 by 12 athletes. You just paid $50.00 for a one hour warm-up and two games where you got up to bat a total of six or seven times if you were lucky. If you weren't the pitcher, catcher or 1st base, you may have touched the ball six or seven because not every hit goes to every player and the ball just doesn't get thrown from player to player that often, except to 1st.  Not one college coach saw your daughter at bat.  Not one saw her make that diving catch and throw for the double play.

We could also go into all the research about playing a single sport all year. It's stated over and over that athletes benefit from playing more than one sport. If you aren't committed to every weekend of dome softball, you have time to play another winter sport and possibly go to some softball clinics too.

I had an opportunity to stand with several Division III coaches last at a showcase last winter. The conversation was about athletes that play only softball and those that are dual- or triple-sport athletes. The overall consensus was that coaches would rather see a multi-sport athlete that isn't quite as good at a position than a single sport athlete that might be a little bit better. They believe that a multi-sport athlete is more easily coached and will really have more ability when coached in a single sport at the college level than those that were only taught softball in youth ball. With dome softball, you're there almost every weekend for a game. With softball clinics, you can go fewer times and be seen by college coaches from schools you may be interested in.

We have come to the mistaken belief that games are practice. They aren't They're still games. And that clinics are just fundraisers. They aren't. If you are open to your daughter going to a school where they hold clinics, the absolute best way for her to be seen is on that campus in that clinic. It does not count as a recruiting visit for the coach. And as the NCAA is starting to restrict recruiting opportunities further, you need to do everything in your power to have your daughter be seen by college coaches.

Last thing. If you're playing on a team that flies to Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, etc., to play in showcase tournaments, ask yourself how many athletes from the upper midwest / plains area are on the teams of the coaches that are in attendance. What is the real opportunity for your daughter to play on those teams? Sure, Minnesota in generating some Division I athletes. And there are a few more Division II athletes. But the majority of athletes from this area play Division III (because there are more Division III teams). And I'd guess most of them play on teams within 300-miles (five hours) from home. Ask yourself why you're paying for your daughter to be seen for 10-minutes by a few coaches in Reno, when she can be seen all day by a coach in a school she's more likely to attend.

I'd absolutely love to see every college and university with a softball team have clinics.


Why families stretch their budgets for high-priced youth sports

Judy Carter Davis and her husband, Dwight, recently got back from a trip to Scotland -- the "Home of Golf" -- with its tourist must-sees like Edinburgh and the Old Course in St. Andrews.

But the couple didn't travel 4,508 miles in late May to go sightseeing. They crossed the Atlantic and spent $4,800 over 10 days to watch their son Ian, who turned 14 last month, compete in the U.S. Kids Golf European Championship 2017 at the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club. He finished tied for 32nd place in the 13-year-old group.

When it comes to Ian's golf, the Davis family is all in, and they aren't just traveling to Scotland, or dropping thousands for one tournament. Since Ian played his first golf tournament at age 7, the couple's financial commitment to his athletic development has been sizable.

"Well in the six figures," Dwight Davis, 53, estimates. To reduce strain on their budget, the family "had to make sacrifices," such as not "going on as many vacations" and saving a "little less in 401(k)" retirement accounts, says Davis, who is a vice president for a global information and communications technology company.

The couple recently sold their Dallas home and moved to Orlando, Fla., so Ian could hone his skills at Bishops Gate Golf Academy, where annual tuition, including academics at Montverde Academy, costs $60,000.

The goal: an athletic scholarship and good education for Ian. Playing pro on the PGA Tour one day, Dwight Davis adds, would be a "bonus."

Welcome to the expensive world of elite youth sports. Annual spending for club travel-team tuition, personal trainers, top-of-the-line equipment, showcase tournaments and outlays for gas, airfares, hotels and food on the road runs into the thousands of dollars.

Nearly 20% of U.S. families spend more than $12,000 a year, or $1,000 per month, on youth sports, per child, according to a TD Ameritrade survey of parents between 30 and 60 years old with $25,000 in investable assets with kids currently playing youth sports or ones that did. That's in line with the median mortgage payment of $1,030 that Americans make monthly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Most American families (63%) spend anywhere from $100 to $499 per child each month on youth sports, TD Ameritrade found. Another 18% fork over $500 to $999 monthly. Roughly one in 10 (11%) spend $1,000 to $1,999. On the high end, 8% said they spend $2,000 per month or more, or $24,000-plus per year.

All that spending on sports crimps other parts of their lives, the survey found, with 55% saying they "cut back on entertainment," 40% saying they "take fewer vacations," and 23% admitting they have "cutback on money set aside for retirement."

There's nothing wrong with helping your son or daughter realize their sports dreams, learn useful life lessons, get fit and stay out of trouble, personal financial experts interviewed by USA TODAY say.

But it shouldn't come at the expense of your own retirement account or other family funding needs, says Mike Trombley, a former ballplayer at Duke University who went on to pitch 11 pros seasons for the Minnesota Twins and who now runs Trombley Associates, an investment and retirement planning firm in Wilbraham, Mass.

"We all love our kids," Trombley says. "But you've got to put yourself and your retirement first."

But that's often not the case, the TD Ameritrade survey found. One in three parents (33%) say they "do not contribute regularly to a retirement account" due to sports-related expenses. Forty percent say they don't have an emergency fund. And 60% say they worry that paying for sports "may impact their ability to save for retirement."

Most sports parents, even those with the best of intentions, have their financial priorities backwards, Trombley says.

His advice: Fund your 401(k) account first and take advantage of your company's matching contribution. Saving for college tuition comes next. Stash some cash for emergencies, too. Funding youth sports should come last.

At that point, Trombley says, the family needs to demonstrate financial discipline and say, "This is what we can afford." Or honestly answer the question, "My annual nut for sports is $10,000; is that doable?"

To minimize costs and avoid breaking the family budget, experts recommend paring back on weekend tournaments, playing for local teams rather than travel teams, not going overboard with private lessons and high-end equipment -- and most important, being realistic about your child's athletic future.

The increased spending on elite youth sports, which is often referred to as an "arms race," is driven in part by the fact that 67% of parents have hopes that their investment will pay off in an athletic scholarship, and 34% who think their child-athlete will go to the Olympics or turn pro, according to the TD Ameritrade survey.

Parents' expectations about how far their child can go are too high given statistics that show how few high school athletes end up playing sports in college, and how even fewer go on to play in the Olympics or the NFL, NBA or NHL, says Trombley.

"There are a million reasons why sports won't work out," says Trombley. "You have to be realistic."

The odds of playing Division I sports in college are long. Take men's basketball. Of the 546,000-plus kids playing in high school in 2015-2016, only 18,684 played NCAA college basketball and only 1% of those players, or roughly 187 kids, went on to play DI, NCAA data show. The odds of playing men's DI are also slim in other major sports. Only 2.6% of football players, 2% of golfers and 4.6% of hockey players made the jump from high school to DI. The statistics are similar for women athletes.

Getting to the pros is an even an longer shot. The probability of a college player going pro is 1.1% in basketball, 1.5% in football and 5.6% in ice hockey, NCAA data show.

Even the rare parents like Neil and Lorraine Shea -- a hockey-crazed family from Marshfield, Mass., who have three hockey-playing sons who got college scholarships -- couldn't avoid the financial pinch of a nomadic life going from rink to rink.

"We lived paycheck to paycheck so they could play hockey," says Neil Shea, 54, an ex-hockey player at Boston College and current part-time scout for the NHL's Colorado Avalanche.

"For 10 years," he says, "it was just hockey madness in my house. On some weekends, we were dropping $300 to $400 bucks on gas alone."

The high cost of hockey, where high-end skates now cost upwards of $1,000 and composite sticks sell for $280, forced the Shea family to drive the same Toyota Sequoia SUV for 14 years and well over 200,000 miles.

"We got rid of it this past winter; it was ready to fall apart," says the hockey dad who works for the utility company Eversource and was able to defray some of the costs of travel hockey by coaching his sons' youth teams, which earned him a discount. Home repairs were also "put on the backburner" and his suits and work shoes got extra miles, too, he adds.

One son, Patrick, 20, currently plays DI hockey for the University of Maine and was a seventh-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2015 NHL Draft. His youngest son, Neil, recently committed to play DI hockey for Northeastern. And his oldest son, Brandon, is at Curry College after a serious injury shortened his hockey career.

"Between the three of them, I was fortunate to save a ton of money I didn't have on tuition," Shea says.

But Shea says he's been "fortunate" to have things work out, because in his role as a pro scout and a coach at the youth hockey level, he has seen many families overspend in an attempt to help realize their sons' dreams of playing in the NHL.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't usually play out that way," Shea says, adding that he has known families who have taken out second mortgages on their homes to help pay for sports.

Personal finance pros say more often than not, investing in sports does not reap a financial return.

Travis Dorsch, a former place kicker at Purdue University and ex-NFL pro with the Cincinnati Bengals who is the founding director of the Families in Sports Lab at Utah State University, says the trend is for families to spend more of their gross income on sports. He says an investment in your kids' sports career is much different than buying a stock or mutual fund, and expecting it to rise in value.

"For most families there is no return on their sports investment," Dorsch says.

Judy Carter Davis, 52, is 100% behind the investment in her son's golf career, but is still keenly aware that the family's dreams for their son are akin to a risky investment.

"It's like putting all your money into one stock on Wall Street, and not knowing if your investment will be successful," she says.

Source: CNBC


Youth sports face declining participation, rising costs and unqualified coaches, study finds

Between skyrocketing costs, sport specialization and coaches needing training, youth sports is in the midst of a crisis, according to new data published Wednesday by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute.

Athletic participation for kids ages 6 through 12 is down almost 8 percent over the last decade, according to SFIA and Aspen data, and children from low-income households are half as likely to play one day's worth of team sports than children from households earning at least $100,000.

"Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots," said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen's Sports & Society program. The group released its research at its annual Project Play Summit on Wednesday in Washington. "All that matters is if kids come from a family that has resources. If you don't have money, it's hard to play."

Almost 45 percent of kids ages 6 to 12 played a team sport regularly in 2008, according to Aspen data. Now only about 37 percent of kids do.

Experts blame that trend on what they call an "up or out" mentality in youth sports. Travel leagues, ones that can sometimes cost thousands of dollars to join, have crept into increasingly younger age groups, and choose the most talented kids for their teams.

The kids left behind either grow unsatisfied on regular recreational teams or get the message that the sport isn't for them, Farrey said.

One of the conference's main goals is to enable informal play and encourage kids to play more than one sport. Aspen, a nonprofit think tank, introduced a partnership with Major League Baseball, the NBA, Nike and a dozen other industry groups to pursue those strategies.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the keynote speaker, said he had spoken with the NBA, NFL and NHL commissioners and they agreed, "the best athlete is a kid who played multiple sports."

But pursuit of a college athletic scholarship has "reshaped" the youth sports landscape, Farrey said, and placed an earlier emphasis on winning and elite skill development that often forces children to select one sport at an early age.

That has pushed hypercompetitive selection processes into younger age groups - some basketball analysts rank the nation's best kindergartners - and ravaged traditional recreational leagues whose purpose is to get kids playing rather than winning games.

That has caused major losses for the "big four" American youth sports: baseball, basketball, soccer and football (both tackle and flag). All four sports have suffered the most severe losses of any of the 15 team sports SFIA and Aspen surveyed.

The only sports that saw growth over the past eight years were golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, and track and field.

Those declines have sent leagues and the nonprofits that support them scrambling to attract kids' attention - often away from video games - and sweeten the deal for parents who sign their kids up for sports.

"We go out and we have to sell our program whether we charge or not," said Lawrence Cann, founder of Street Soccer USA, a nonprofit that develops local soccer clubs.

"You can't stick a kid in right field and he touches the ball once or twice a game," Farrey said. "That's not the same level of excitement as you can get on a video game."

But money, measured in average household income, is the largest indicator of whether a child is going to be physically active or play sports, the data shows.

And whether children are physically active, Farrey said, is another of the largest indicators as to what kind of adult that child will become.

"There's reams and reams of research on this," he said. "Kids who are physically active are less likely to be obese. They're better in the classroom. They go to college. They're more likely to be active parents. And because of that, their kids are more active."

Children from households making less than $25,000 a year are half as likely to have played a day's worth of team sports as kids from households making at least $100,000, according to Aspen and SFIA's data.

Youth sports make up a $15 billion industry, according to a recent Time Magazine cover story, between costs for equipment, uniforms, travel, lodging, registration fees and so much more. And as elite travel teams reach into younger age groups, coaching often becomes privatized, too.

"There's been this presumption that youth sports are exploding in this country and private clubs and trainers will pick up the slack," Farrey said. "For kids with resources, they have. But families without resources are getting left behind."

And those travel teams and private skills coaches can also drive up costs for traditional rec leagues, experts say.

Teams are in a constant fight for practice space, especially in urban areas, and affluent leagues often outbid rec leagues for use of the best fields in the most convenient locations, said former San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza. He is also the president of the Urban Soccer Leadership Academy.

Another of youth sports' largest challenges: finding qualified coaches. According to SFIA and Aspen data, seven in 10 youth sports coaches are not trained in six core competencies required to be a qualified coach. Those competencies are general safety and injury prevention, effective motivational techniques, CPR and basic first aid, physical conditioning, concussion management, and sport-specific skills and tactics. At the summit, Aspen described the issue as a public health concern.

There is also barely any diversity in the youth coaching ranks. More than 70 percent of youth coaches for both boys' and girls' sports are male. Half of all coaches' households make at least $100,000 per year.

Farrey said those kinds of trends make sports look like they are for some kids, those with enough money and superior skill, and not everyone. He hopes Aspen's new coalition of sport organizations will help more kids gain access to fun athletic experiences.

"Success looks like every kid in this country having the opportunity to play sports," he said, "and develop habits of physical activity for their lifetime."

Source: The Oregonian / Washington Post


Changing a culture: IHSAA seeks to transform win-at-all-cost attitude

Everyone -- or almost everyone -- likes a winner.

Whether an athlete has a positive or negative experience in sports often depends on winning. Job security for coaches is often tied to their win-loss record. And interest level of even the most diehard fans is tied to a winning program.

But when is too much emphasis placed on winning? At every level, including amateur teams, sports has turned to a win-at-all-costs mentality.

"We're getting to that place," said Bobby Cox, commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association. "Society continues to be driven by success and numbers on the board and numbers of championships, and is that being done with the best interests of student-athletes in mind?"

The InSideOut Initiative is a nonprofit aimed at reducing the "win-at-all-costs" sports culture found in communities across the country. The initiative, aimed at high school sports, will launch soon in Indiana, in partnership with the IHSAA Foundation and the Indianapolis Colts.

Three out of four American families with school-aged children will have at least one child who plays an organized sport -- about 45 million children in all, according to the IHSAA. However, youth sports has evolved into an $8 billion industry that promotes early specialization, private one-on-one coaching and a significant financial and emotional investment by parents.

And yet less than 3 percent of high school athletes will go on to play college athletics, and less than 1 percent will ever play professionally, according to stats provided by the IHSAA.

"There's a lot of emphasis put on winning, but you have to stay focused," Columbus East boys basketball coach Brent Chitty said. "It's always rewarding for me when you see a kid come back as a minister, a lawyer, a police officer, a doctor. You know you're doing it the right way. That emphasis is something really important because our No. 1 job is to produce successful people in our communities."

Chitty said when he was hired by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. in 2010, it was as a teacher first and as a coach second. So he expects his players to be students first and athletes second. Playing sports, he said, is a bonus.

'Why do I coach?'

Founded by Jody Redman and Joe Ehrmann, The InSideOut Initiative is in its third year.

Piloted in Colorado and Texas, it catalyzes partnerships with educational leaders, state athletics associations and NFL teams to address the brokenness of the sports culture and engages stakeholders in strategic conversations to redefine the role of interscholastic sports in the lives of students and communities, says the IHSAA.

Cox said the IHSAA is always looking for ways to improve the relationships between coaches and student-athletes. He said the InSideOut initiative is an opportunity for coaches in Indiana to do some self examination.

"I think that we need to do a critical examination about why we coach," Cox said. "What's on the scoreboard is not the most critical aspect of the education-based experience. Am I here to win a state championships or get as many kids as I can into college, or be a transformational person in the kids' lives? Our job is to make sure that they are the best-equipped people they can be and teach life lessons."

Columbus North athletics director Jeff Hester is familiar with Ehrmann, who has written "InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives."

In his book, Ehrmann talks about two types of coaching -- transformational and transitional. Transitional is more win-at-all-costs, while transformational is about building relationships with student-athletes.

"Joe Ehrmann is a guy that I have a lot of respect for," Hester said. "I've read his books and have shared information with our coaches already. We strive to be more the transformational, where we transform lives. It starts with relationships, and that is one of the more focal points that we try to do here. I was real pleased to see the IHSAA has taken on this initiative."

North football coach Tim Bless read Ehrmann's "InSideOut Coaching" book several years ago and said he tries to embrace its concepts.

"We're in the business of molding young men through the game of football," Bless said.

His players can attest to that. Senior Jaylen Flemmons is a three-sport athlete who plays football, basketball and track.

Flemmons, a standout wide receiver for the Bull Dogs, said Bless always harps on his players to keep their grades up and practice good sportsmanship.

"I think it's really important," Flemmons said. "We all know in the end, it's just a game. We still have to work on our schoolwork so we can play the game and then get to college, but then (sports) also teaches you a bunch of life lessons about growing up and becoming a man, and coach B is always making sure he gets that across to everybody."

Addy Galarno is a three-sport athlete at East. The senior plays soccer and basketball and ran track her first two years. This spring, she was part of the Olympians' Unified track team.

Galarno said her school encourages athletes to participate in multiple sports.

"That's a great idea to have coaches promote that because going forward to your future, I know colleges look more toward having multiple-sport athletes," Galarno said. "With multiple-sport athletes, you have less injuries because you use different muscles. It helps in school, too, because you're supported by not only one team, but two or three teams."

Lessons learned

After Richards Elementary School lost by two points in the 2014 Elementary Basketball League championship, coach Chris Anderson said it might have been a good thing that the Raiders lost.

Richards had gone undefeated and won the title the year before and was undefeated going into the 2014 title game. But Anderson understood that sometimes, kids learn more from a loss than they do from a win.

That season began with Anderson, who stepped in when the school needed a coach, having to instill a lesson in a couple of his players.

"I was coaching a fifth- and sixth-grade team, and basically, it was made up of a bunch of kids that played AAU ball on their elementary team," Anderson said. "So the very first day of practice, we had to penalize one of the best players for bullying, for being mean to one of the other kids on the bus. We kicked them out of practice, and it changed things."

Anderson made sure the players who weren't the stars on that squad had a blast. He said the team turned out to be like a family.

The three oldest of Anderson's four daughters have played golf at North. The oldest two, Sydney and Holly, are now playing at Ball State, and Annie is a sophomore for the Bull Dogs. Holly Anderson was the medalist in last year's high school state tournament.

Chris Anderson said North girls golf coach Scott Seavers chooses to take the high road instead of being win-at-all costs.

"We've all been on teams where that maybe wasn't the case, so I think that's maybe what pushed my girls into golf," he said. "It's about you and how you act and overcoming adversity. Golf is a game where you don't cheat, or you don't shortcut. That's why we really like golf. We've been in some basketball situations since they were little where it was not the case, and it kind of makes the team sports be a little less appealing. It just really goes to show how important a coach is. Even as coaches, we're just people."

Lisa McCarter has had two boys play football at East, and she has seen that the program emphasizes the overall person. She said her kids learned how to respect others, how to earn respect, how to listen to ways to improve and play the next play.

McCarter is president of the Olympians' Quarterback Club, which feeds players pasta dinners on Thursday evenings. She said the players are all polite and they all say 'Thank you.' She said they don't act like they are entitled, and attitude that comes from the top down.

""One of our mottos at East is 'Do what champions do.' That's not so much about winning, but working hard and preparing and executing your plan and looking to those that are doing the right thing and trying to emulate them," McCarter said. "Just being part of a team and learning how to put the goals of your team in front of your personal goals is part of developing character."

Schools can participate

The IHSAA Foundation is shepherding The InSideOut Initiative to member schools, giving them an opportunity to participate and go through the training. There is no mandate for participation. Schools get to decide.

The group had a kickoff event Aug. 25 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although the Columbus athletics directors could not attend since it was the night of the North-East football game, both Hester and East athletics director Pete Huse indicated they would be willing to participate.

"We certainly stress that we do not want to win at all costs," Huse said. "We want to follow all the rules. I think the guys and gals that do that are the most successful. Usually when there's a coach out there that's a Hall of Famer, they probably already do most of these things. The programs that struggle, I think (a win-at-all-costs attitude is) one of the reasons they do struggle."

Olympians football coach Bob Gaddis is the executive director for the Indiana Football Coaches Association. Because of the timing of the initiative coinciding with the beginning of the football season, he has not officially addressed it in meetings with the IFCA membership.

Gaddis said the amount of time and money that youth sports is demanding is making it tough for kids to be involved in multiple sports.

"What they want is the full-rounded student-athlete," Gaddis said. "When we talked about these type of things with the IHSAA, we backed off the amount of time you can spend with kids in the summertime (in football). I know the IHSAA was very appreciative of that and used that as a model for other sports."

That includes girls sports.

Last month, North volleyball coach Caitlin Greiner and East volleyball coach Stacie Pagnard and assistant Terry Sweasy put aside their teams' rivalry and combined to form the Columbus Volleyball Academy.

"My goal isn't just to create good volleyball players, but good girls, good human beings and adults," Greiner said. "Everybody wants to win, but (the InSideOut Initiative) teaches the girls time management, it teaches them to go outside their comfort zone, it teaches what their maximum threshold can be on mental and physical levels. Being a good coach, yes, it's motivating the girls. But if I don't practice what I preach, how can I ask them to respect me if I'm not a good role model for them?"

Pagnard went into coaching because both of her parents were coaches. Her mom was a volleyball and basketball coach, and her dad was a head basketball and assistant football and baseball coach.

Pagnard said some of her role models growing up were her parents' players.

"I was able to witness first-hand how impactful coaches can be in their players' lives," Pagnard said. "A lot of times, education gets a bad rap. But if you have the mindset, which is what the IHSAA is trying to create, of being more than Xs and Os, that's what you need to have.

"How many kids do you stay in contact with that played 10 years ago? How many of their weddings have you gone to? I think that's why the IHSAA is doing this."