The Cost of Kids in Competitive Sports

Ryan has excellent fundamentals. His fielding and throwing are flawless, and his swing mechanics are perfect. He's an all-star player and has serious major league potential, which is the ultimate goal.

Topic : family-discipleship

Ryan has excellent fundamentals. His fielding and throwing are flawless, and his swing mechanics are perfect. He’s an all-star player and has serious major league potential, which is the ultimate goal.

He didn’t master these top-notch skills overnight. His daily schedule is intense and revolves entirely around improving his game. On most weekdays, from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m., he has one-on-one hitting lessons, followed by two hours of private fielding and throwing practice. After a quick dinner (eaten in the car), he finishes the day with two hours of practice under the lights of his select team’s practice field. He gets home around 8:30 p.m., and after nearly six hours of training and practice, there’s just enough time to do homework, finish chores and get ready for bed. Ryan’s a fifth grader, a mere 10 years old.

Competitive T-Ball?

Ryan isn’t his real name, but his story is real. And while his is an extreme example, it’s not an isolated one. Competitive sports are gold for both boys and girls, especially in upper-middle class, suburban neighborhoods. Parents with both time and money can spend every afterschool hour and thousands of dollars plugging their kids into the next private session, select squad or traveling tournament team. Yes, these teams and coaches are producing talented athletes. Really, it’s impressive how good these kids are—but at what cost?

The research is limited, but an article by ESPN reveals the following about youth sports:

  • 60% of boys and 47% of girls are on a team by the age of 6.
  • The biggest indicator that a child will start sports at a young age is whether or not their parents have a household income of $100,000 or more.
  • Baseball and soccer start off as popular choices, but by the time kids reach age 9, basketball becomes the most popular competitive sport. 
  • Data paints a distinct picture of suburbs where swaths of kids in elementary and middle school—especially boys—play on three, four or five sports teams. The culture revolves around their practices, tournaments and getting to their games.
  • 45% of the students surveyed had started a sport and soon quit. The number one reason for quitting, given by 39% of the kids, was, “I wasn’t having fun.”

I’m not saying organized sports are bad. In addition to the obvious benefits of physical play and fitness, kids can learn valuable life skills, such as teamwork, commitment, responsibility, respect and self-discipline. Organized sports also provide believers with opportunities to engage and evangelize those outside the faith, whether it be parents chatting in the stands or teammates playing together.

But He Could Get a Scholarship!

As parents, do we need to step back and consider the hidden costs we are paying to make our kids the best player on the team and to get that elusive college scholarship? What motivates you to spend piles of money and precious hours on the demands of your kids’ competitive, select and tournament teams? Let’s admit, it feels good to see our kids make a great play out on the field. It does something to us, sparks something in us. But do we enjoy it too much?

I don’t doubt that your son has serious talent and skill on the field or that your daughter has great potential to make the select squad. But, along the way, has performance and parental ego trumped the value of participation in youth sports and activities?

Calling a Timeout

What if you took a break? What if your family took a year off from competitive sports and decided together how to grow closer and build the kingdom with all that redeemed time? Have consistent, regular dinners together at the kitchen table instead of eating in the car. Vacation more together—go camping, hunting or fishing. Take your family on a foreign mission trip through your local church. Volunteer at a community outreach center. Attend and volunteer at church regularly. Enjoy weekends at home, spending time with your kids instead of always being on the run (Deut. 6:6-7).

Think about what life might be like for your family without exhausting commitments to high-level competitive sports and activities. Try stepping back and exploring what it would be like to have more freedom in your family’s schedule. What investments of eternal significance could you make with all the extra time? In light of all the possibilities, isn’t it worth calling a timeout?