The Cost of Youth Sports

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mark Hyman, journalist and former writer for BusinessWeek and Sports Business Journal, and author of The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today's Families, offers a sobering look at the business of youth sports.


Mark Hyman

Comments [16]

Jenny from Fairfield County, CT

I honor the life lessons that kids sports provide to develop character: the importance of commitment, team work, and most of all the hard lessons: learning to accept and manage failure and loss at a young age. That said, I can't help but notice that these basic lessons are becoming a lost art.

In a deep desire to win at all costs, some coaches inadvertently fail to teach the important life lessons and in turn pass along the wrong message: its all about winning. For example, in order to get their scores on the board, coaches are seen allowing the more gifted players who don't show up for practice to start games, at times they yell at players, I've even witnessed the accosting of referees/umpires....all at a game for 9-10 year olds.

No matter what the sport, or the organization running it, I feel its becoming more and more important for organizations to create and honor a code of conduct for all those participating: coaches, kids, and parents/spectators. Put simply I feel perspective is lost: Kids games are kids games, They're not the major leagues, FIFA, or NFL.

Mar. 23 2012 12:28 PM

An aside---who's doing much if not most of the suburban driving between the hours of 3 and 7 or so? Just look at the minivan/ SUV next to you... Parents and kids heading to travel/ away games. Who'd have thought that the commercialization and professionalization of youth sports is also contributing to the uptick in greenhouse emissions?

Mar. 23 2012 11:38 AM

I couldn't agree more with Meredith. I beleive the entire youth sports explosion is fueled by colleges. Sports are often a child's ticket to a much better College than they would otherwise attend. As a former youth soccer coach,I have seen a 9 year old girl yanked off of the travel soccer team so the child could focus on their fencing full time, and thus get into an Ivy league school. I had several talented players leave the local travel team to play on regional teams, which spent more than 20 hours a week on soccer. Neither of these kids continued their soccer careers through high school, but at the age of ten, their parents felt that they were potential college soccer players. This attitude is fostered by colleges. Virtually every varsity athelete at every college is recruited. My understanding is that at small elite colleges like Amherst, 25% of the kids are varsity athletes taking a significant number of spots away from more academically gifted kids. Many kids who get in because of athletics are not at the same academic level as the rest of the kids in the class,and because of this and the enormous amount of time spent practicing (sometimes more than 4 hours a day) they find it difficult to keep up. Fortunately, even at Ivy league schools athletes are given a list of easy courses.
A generation ago, most college athletes were just kids who got into the school for other reasons (football was always the exception to this). I remember a flyer my freshman year which was sent out to all the boys, that the baseball team needed players. Now every postition is recruited, often years ahead of time. The new student athlete often has nothing in common with the rest of the class. Back then, if you school had a good soccer team, it was because the students who got in for other reasons happened to be good soccer players. Now it is a matter of whether your school recruited the best soccer players, often from other countries.

Finally, I recently spoke to a friend of mine who is in charge of hiring kids for a large oraganization here in the city. She was appalled at the low caliber of some of the Ivy league graduates she recently hired. Finally she discovered that all of the substandard kids were athletes,and were not of the same intellectual caliber as the rest of the graduates from their schools. Now, when she reads a resume, if the applicant was a college athlete, she no longer consders the applicant.
I think it is time that colleges stopped recruiting athletes, and the place to start is at Ivy league schools and small northeastern Colleges. Does anyone really care whether Yale has a good fencing team anyway? Once athletics is deemphasised in College, sports will also be deemphasised in schools and by parents.

Mar. 23 2012 11:33 AM

Since when are athletes relegated to "second class status" (if I heard one caller correctly)? Sports are a religion in my suburban NJ town and athletes are lionized disproportionately. This shows itself, sadly, from very early on in the social makeup at the schools, with cliques forming mainly on the basis of sports played. The self-confidence earned on the field or the court or in the pool (certainly the same self-confidence that could be garnered from any number of group/ team activities, including school musical productions and various volunteer efforts, by the way)distorts into swagger as the years go on. And where does the onus for all this rest? On parents, schools, and, most of all, colleges. How can any eighth grader or high school freshman not feel puffed up when their mailboxes fill with recruiting letters from college coaches already looking their way?

Mar. 23 2012 11:32 AM
Kasia from Brooklyn, NY

I totally agree with the idea about getting to know people while hitchhiking. I've done that a lot as a teen in Poland and met very interesting people. I also did that in Brazil. Somehow, here in the US people have advised me against me.

Mar. 23 2012 11:20 AM
Elizabeth from Westfield NJ

I disagreed with Mark Hyman - I am the mother of 2 former college athletes (a boy and a girls). They both played several sports in HS and played for their Div III colleges (no scholarships are allowed in Div III schools). We will always remember a lecture we attended by a college coach while we were at one of our daughter's tournament in Maryland when she was 9 years old. This wise coach told us that if we were doing this for a college scholarship, we were better off saving all the money we were spending on camps, uniforms, tournaments, equipment, etc and that if we saved the money, we were going to be able to pay for a good part of our kids' college expenses. We did this because our kids loved sports and my husband did too. The skills that they aquired partcipating in sports have served them well in life.

Mar. 23 2012 11:15 AM
Mary from Rockland County

In many cash strapped, sports focused communities in our county, the only way to be able to obtain a spot on a high school team is for parents to pay for their child to play on club, travel or other similar teams from the age of 4! In some sports it is virtually impossible for a child to "walk on" and learn a sport in junior high or as a freshman. The result is that even if a child is interested, there are few opportunities to participate in sports after a child "ages out" from community rec league based programs. Certainly there are exceptions for naturally talented youth, but for the average child, it is disheartening to tell a 14 year old that they can't play sports in school (paid for by the taxpayers of the district) because their parents couldn't/didn't sign them up when they were in pre-school.

Mar. 23 2012 11:08 AM
Mike from Cincinnati

One has to set ground rules and stick to it. Mine is we have a monthly budget that has to fit into the various sport is signed up for.

My 9year old is now part of a travelling Basketball team and I told the coach I'll not travel to any of out of city games if we have to sleepover. I as a Dad to have one day a weekend to maintain my sanity.

The primary goal is outstanding academic capability; everything else is gravy.

Mar. 23 2012 11:04 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

The current Mom caller is missing the point ... her sons are the exception. The general problem is that sports, like so much else in our society about children is we take away their childhood from them and turn them into mini-adult competitors, from pre-school throughout.

We are cranking out robots, not humans!

Mar. 23 2012 10:59 AM

How about the MEATHEAD, misogynist, homophobic attitude the team sport culture nurtures and perpetuates??

Mar. 23 2012 10:58 AM

Did the caller just imply that music programs never get cur/reduced for financial reasons?

Mar. 23 2012 10:58 AM

I was a baseball fanatic in elementary. Unfortunately, I was also very, very poor and had to drop out of little league because of cost. Heart breaking

Mar. 23 2012 10:58 AM
John from NYC

This "travel team" environment never existed years ago and we were able to enjoy team sports. Today's parents are out of control buying into and encouraging this travel team situation. What's wrong with a more localized sports league. You may even get to know your neighbor this way.

Mar. 23 2012 10:58 AM
Meredith from NYC/NJ

As a college professor I think that parents could not be MORE misguided with the aspiration for a sports scholarship to college. Fact: athletes are asked to spend so much time on sports while in college, they perform well below average as a group. Due to this, there is a bias against athletes on the part of most professors. They are often accepted to colleges where they would not have been accepted on the basis of their academics, and this makes them even more alienated from college. They would be better off playing for the sake of play and studying for the sake of college.

Mar. 23 2012 10:57 AM

Another case of the haves and have nots. We know sports benefits kids but only those with cash can be serious. Trayvon Martin and his ilk are shut out.


Mar. 23 2012 10:57 AM
Sue from New Jersey

How can school systems continue to pay for competitive sports at even the middle school level? Insurance, buses, coaches, training - this cannot go on, not with fuel costs so high. How can school start to transition to a more recreational model up until at least the highest grades in high school? Can't this be sold to parents as a more realistic lifelong preparation than competition via team sports? Most childhood team athletes never learn that exercise need not accompany competitive sports.

Mar. 23 2012 10:53 AM

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