Making Cents in Youth Sports

Making Cents in Youth Sports

The “push and pull” in a multibillion dollar race to compete.

Having never been a mom myself (other than to the four-legged family member), I’ve had a birds-eye view of parents and their kids in what I term the “spin cycle” of sports competition at all levels. Whether the parents of a World Cup and Olympic women’s soccer champion or the single mother of a Super Bowl winning Eagle now flying high, the disparity between a busy mom dropping her daughter at volleyball practice and the helicopter dad anxiously awaiting the starting lineup for his son’s Little League game can be as deep as Nick Saban’s analysis of Alabama’s 2018 recruiting class.

My own dad invested countless weekends watching me skate at the neighborhood ice rink, then it was hours at the batting cages and baseball fields before entering high school. One of few freshmen to start for my varsity high school team in Southern California, a budding softball career gave way to the many other options for a freshman girl after just one year, crushing my dad’s hopes of sending his daughter on an athletic scholarship to the nation’s leader in NCAA softball championships, UCLA.

Fast forward 38 years, as I share hard facts and firm opinions of a growing sports industry and its significant impact at the youth level.

Have the days of placing youths in a team sport to exercise something other than their fingertips and develop life lessons given way to skills assessments and travel leagues? Based on the $15 billion valuation of today’s youth sports leagues, the troubling answer is yes. Troubling because a culture that is increasingly focused on mining future All Stars to feed an insatiable market of promoters, fan bases and team organizers precludes millions of youths with standard athletic abilities, yet with hearts and minds that compete at the highest levels.

Consider estimates that reveal 70% of kids quit playing sports by the age of 13.

What’s driving this disheartening statistic? I believe it’s the push and pull of many parents, coaches, universities and others whose objectives don’t always align with an athlete’s. The strong push of parents as fans, volunteers and occasional coaches for their child to excel athletically is being pulled at the opposite end by a lucrative industry of private instructors and club teams to identify and develop these kids into stars at many of the nation’s most elite high schools, before contributing to the multibillion dollar college athletics business.

Of course, as an avid fan of all things UCLA and the Pittsburgh Steelers, I appreciate top level competition and the sacrifices made to contend at the most elite levels. However, am I willing to accept a student-athlete’s poor character and suspect behavior to win at all costs? Absolutely not, but that will be revealed in a future article. Think LaVar Ball & Sons.

Certainly, the top line of the chosen youth and those agreeable to a prospective life of a mega sports star are in the super minority. Yet for the vast majority of kids on fields and courts across this country, is an honest and dedicated will to compete, while having fun, reward enough?

· A growing number of families seeks to win at a very high cost to their family structure, financial future, and child’s development.

· A remarkable 20% of U.S. families spend more than $1,000 monthly per child on his/her sports or the equivalent of a median mortgage payment of $1,030 according to a TD Ameritrade survey.

· A reported 33% of parents don’t contribute steadily to their retirement accounts due to the escalating costs of youth sports, reveals the TD Ameritrade survey.

· Ironically, the most expensive youth sports are not those that boast the greatest earning potential at the professional ranks. Consider that lacrosse and hockey are the two highest cost sports in which to compete.

· Yet, according to the TD Ameritrade survey, despite an overwhelming majority of parents with aspirations of their child receiving an athletic scholarship, followed by 34% believing that he/she will become an Olympian and/or professional athlete, consider these odds of advancing from the pool of high school players in the U.S. per NCAA data: 1% will play Division 1 basketball of which 1.1% will play in the NBA. A slightly greater 2.6% will play Division 1 football of which 1.5% will play in the NFL.

Just who is benefiting most from the progression of developing a young athlete into an unlikely college and even less likely professional star? I look to the elite leagues, equipment manufacturers, trainers and others who capitalize on the dreams of parents living vicariously or placing stock in their child versus Wall Street, and who (hopefully) prepare a willing youth for the next level of competition. No guarantees. No problem for this savvy group of specialists that see the business side of youth sports and its high stakes, high reward model.
Cristina Walters is the Head Coach of She’s A Gamer, whose goal is to educate, empower, and engage women at all levels of sports knowledge. She also hosts She’s A Gamer on Money Radio and Team 1010 in Southern California. Forward-thinking companies can contact Cristina at, or join her team by visiting

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