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What is the ROI on Youth Sports?

Three of my four kids play or played sports at the collegiate level – rugby, row, and soccer and the ROI or the return on your investment is often a sore subject with parents.

Seeing my kids excel at something they love has been a great sense of pride and accomplishment. The investment I made: time and money spent driving to practices, private training, out of town tournaments, expensive gear and competitions, paid off – in the sense that I got to see them achieve a goal. Only one of my kids’ scholarships came close to being an actual return on that financial investment. We’ve all heard the statistics, there’s only a single digit percentage of a chance that your child will even play Division I or II, and I’m not even talking about scholarships, just playing. The NCAA regularly publishes these statistics and it’s all there in black and white. So if that’s the kind of ROI you’re looking for, then youth sports may not be for you.

I’ve been blessed to see the youth sports movement from more than one vantage point; I am a parent and a coach. I have coached recreational soccer, competitive clubs, high school and now as an assistant in a college program. I’ve worked with families on both sides of the table – which probably gave me great perspective in helping our own family wade through the complicated world of college recruitment.  

Now heading down the hill instead of up it, I have a lot of experience in this area to share.

First and foremost, ask yourself if it is for you or for your kid. Have you asked your kid if they indeed want these things? Some of the players from the national programs I coached went on to play in college. Some players saw high school or club as the end of the line for a myriad of reasons. One thing that has always stuck with me are the kids who had talent, but chose not to continue. Some of these players had one of “those” parents. You know the ones who call, email or text, wanting more for their kid – be it time, extra training etc. Ironically, I could’ve easily made stellar recommendations for some of these kids, but they chose not to be college athletes for their own varied reasons and I see this as very admirable and very mature. What I stress to parents is to put as much effort into their academic career as their athletic career. Academic scholarships have far outweighed the money my kids got on the athletic end as they all competed in  non-revenue sports. 

For me personally, the return on my investment of time and money is ten-fold, but on an intangible level. Over these years we had quality time together traveling; my kids made friends who have remained lifelong friends. I have parents whom I count among my closest friends and to think we met on the sideline through our kids. My mind and heart are flooded with great memories of great victories and stinging defeats. The ROI for me lies in these and the other intangibles of what life lessons my kids learned through their athletic pursuits. The importance of goal setting, being a reliable team member, learning to be gracious in victory and defeat, pushing themselves beyond their own limits. I think if we can look at athletics as an integral part of our child’s overall education and upbringing, then we can easily weigh the decision to do what we do. 

To steal a line from the NCAA, do it because your kid is going to go pro in something other than sports. Professional life demands coachability, drive, determination and investing in your kids’ sports career may be some of the best preparation they can have for their life in the professional world.

Mike Goetz is a parent and recently ended his coaching sabbatical to become an assistant soccer coach at Bellarmine University. He is a leukemia survivor whose family and former players walked this journey with him. A firm believer in mental preparation/performance, also manages the Facebook page Lions Eat Tigers:

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