Work Samples

Spending on Youth Sports Can Backfire


May 28, 2014

It's no surprise that parents spend a lot of money on youth sports, but what may be surprising are a recent study's results that showed that spending doesn't translate into athletic success or feeling supported. Kids feel more pressure and are less motivated to continue playing with each check that's written, the study found.

Many people might think the more money spent, the better the experience for the child who has access to travel teams, private coaching, camps and the full financial support of their parents.

"We were surprised we found the exact opposite," said Travis Dorsch, a sports psychologist and assistant professor at Utah State University, who ran the study.

The online survey of 163 pairs of parents and children found that with greater parental spending, there is less athlete enjoyment and motivation because the child will feel more pressure and/or the parent will exert more pressure.

Despite the results of this study, the money spent does not always mean extra pressure on the child or take away from the experience, according to River Edge psychotherapist Jay P. Granat, founder of Stay in the Zone sports psychology programs.

"Some parents can make the kids feel guilty -- 'We're spending all this money and you're not doing well,' " he said. "[But] some kids really know how to use the training and use the therapist, chiropractor, the camps and they really flourish. ... [They are] really absorbed in the sport, they love it and they are grateful and they really grow with the experience."

The results of the Utah State study were not a surprise to Mark Hyman, who wrote "The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today's Families."

"It's simple human nature," he said. "The more financially invested we are in these sports, the more emotionally invested we become."

Hyman, who admits he made all of these mistakes as a sports parent himself, said he isn't casting judgment on these parents. 
"Even the most balanced parents are vulnerable to this trap where you spent the money and now you're looking for a return on that investment in some way," he said. "Maybe not in a conscious way, but on some level, you're feeling like 'Hey, I want to feel like that money was well spent.' "

Dorsch's study showed that 60 percent of families spend less than 1 percent of their gross income on their kids' sports, 24 percent spend between 1 and 2, and only 2 percent of parents spend more than 5 percent of their gross income. At that top level, his data showed some who spent as much as 10 percent of their gross -- not take-home -- income.

In North Jersey, spending can range from the $50 of a town recreation league to more than $10,000 or more for a middle school or high school player on a club team with private coaches, camps and travel.

Wendy Drake-Schneider's 11- and 13-year-old daughters have been figure-skating since they were toddlers. That comes at a price to the Little Falls family -- skates, costumes, ice time, membership dues and competition travel costs.

"We try not to let them feel pressured," she wrote in an email. "They know what the costs are and that we sacrifice some things in order for them to skate.

Drake-Schneider said she and her husband want the girls to learn good sportsmanship and enjoy themselves and the friends they've made and opportunities they have had thanks to the sport.

"They know that they just have to do their best and practice and listen to their coaches," she wrote.

When it's not fun anymore, they shouldn't do it anymore, according to Drake-Schneider.

The family isn't looking to recoup their expenditures down the road, but do want the girls to be able to use their skating to help pay for their future education.

"Hopefully they will be able to teach while they are in college and offset their college education costs," she wrote. "As well as, we are hopeful for scholarships." Depending on the age of the child, having a conversation about their enjoyment of the sport and connecting the cost isn't a bad idea, said Hyman.

"Some parents stretch to provide that for their kids and I think the parent needs to say, look we're working really hard to do this, 'Do you really like it? Are you on board? Is this a good idea?' It's not such a bad thing to have kids have an idea about economics and what things cost. They don't need a lesson but just an understanding - money doesn't grow on trees."