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
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
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.
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
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
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."
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
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."
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
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