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Sport and Competition

What’s Your Kids’ Sports ROI?

You get a huge return on investment when you're kids commit to sports.

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My two daughters are pretty serious athletes. They’ve been competing in one sport for seven years (along with several others less seriously), trained hard this summer, and are committed to being the best they can be in their sport. Because of this burgeoning involvement in their sport and my being a sport parenting expert of sorts, I’m often asked by other parents why they compete and why I want them to take their sports so seriously. I first tell them that they compete because they just love training, improving, and competing (note the absence of anything having to do with results; more on that in a future article).

As for why I want my girls to compete, given my elite athletic experience, many parents have said: “I’ll bet you want them to be the next [fill in the name of a female athletic superstar] and become rich and famous.” or “You want them to compete in college, don’t you?” Though both would certainly be nice, they are not the reason why I want my daughters to commit to sports. In either case, it’s not a ROI (Return on Investment) that parents should expect or even hope for.

Here’s a simply reality. If you’re looking for an ROI of money and celebrity from your kids’ sports participation, you are making a very bad investment. Even if you’re just hoping for a college athletic scholarship, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Two surveys shed light on why you shouldn’t put your money (or your time or energy) into either.

First, to show you how distorted parents’ perception of what it takes to compete at the highest level of sport, one survey asked parents of high-school-aged athletes whether they hoped that their children would play professional sports. 26 percent of the parents said yes. Those one-in-four parents may “hope,” but, statistically speaking, it isn’t going to happen as the truth is that the chances of their kids going pro are many zeroes to the right of the decimal point.

Second, parents of young athletes spend prodigious amounts of money—tens of thousands of dollars each year (or more!)—on private coaches, personal trainers, sports camps, and the latest equipment in the hopes of their child landing a college athletic scholarship. Yet, only about two percent of high school athletes earn athletic scholarships. And what is the Holy Grail their young athletes may receive if, against all odds, they are offered an athletic scholarship? On average, under $10,000 a year across all NCAA divisions (more for Division I and much less for Division II and III, NAIA, and junior college). If you know anything about finance, you know that the ROI there has, well, a minus sign before it. You would be much better off putting all of that money that you would spend on your kids’ sport in a 529 account where you could see your investment accrue annually.

But a big BUT here! If you have your kids in sports and your ROI isn’t measured in dollar signs, then, assuming you aren’t going to the poor house because of it, sports are oh-so-worth-it and have an immense ROI for you and your children.

In what forms does your ROI come back to you in? Let me count the ways.

Let’s start with what your kids get out of sports. In the short run, young athletes get to have fun running, throwing, kicking, jumping, turning, or whatever a sport has to offer, which means they are physically active. Many sports are played outside, which further promotes their overall health. These benefits are especially important these days where far too many kids are spending far too much time indoors in front of a screen. They make great friends and may get to travel to different places regionally or even internationally. They have the opportunity to gain mastery of a sport that they might participate in for their entire lives. Sports is also exciting, challenging, and immensely satisfying.

But the real ROI comes from what kids get out of being a athlete in the long term. Sports constantly challenge and test young athletes in ways that are far outside what most children experience in their lives. Depending on the sport, they can be physically demanding, highly technical, seriously tactical, and equipment dependent. Some require determination and persistence over a long period of time (e.g., cross-country running, tennis, golf, and baseball/softball). Others are sports of milliseconds and there is little room for error. Still other sports have many types of ever-changing conditions including field, course, or court conditions, terrain, and weather. All of these factors create an environment rife with uncertainty and uncontrollability. And when your children step onto the field of play, they are either all alone, wholly responsible for their successes, but singularly accountable for their failures, or a part of a team that must work together to achieve their common goals.

With that set up, the ROI starts to become more clear and it lies right between the ears and in the hearts of your young athletes. Yes, the biggest ROIs from sports are psychological and emotional and, like an annuity, the dividends continue to be paid out throughout your children’s lives. Here are some of the most significant ROIs that your children receive from sports:

  • Motivation: The determination to sustain their efforts as they pursue their goals;
  • Confidence: The belief that your kids can overcome any challenge;
  • Focus: The ability to concentrate intently for extended periods and not be distracted;
  • Calm: The capacity to stay cool under pressure;
  • Emotions: Mastery over the wide range of feelings they will experience every day;
  • Resilience: Being able to bounce back and keep moving forward in the face of struggles and setbacks;
  • No fear of failure: Accepting that failure is an inevitable and necessary part of the pursuit of success.
  • Courage: To face and overcome their fears;
  • Self-reliance: Knowing they have what it takes to can handle most anything that life throws at them.
  • Meaning: There are few experiences more satisfying and affirming than having given it their all against the longest of odds regardless of the outcome.
  • The list goes on…

Here’s another way to think about it. I can’t speak to how life is for your children where you live, but where we live, in Mill Valley, California, just north of San Francisco, life is too darned easy for our daughters. Though my wife and I do our best to challenge our girls and create opportunities in which they must struggle, they aren’t often outside their comfort zone. As a result, perhaps the biggest ROI I expect from them being athletes is that, quite simply, they will be tough. They will have been faced with all the adversity that sports has to throw at them, so when life inevitably hits them hard in the future, my daughters will get right back up and keep pursuing their dreams.

As for your ROI, there are also many:

  • Participating with your young athletes in their sport;
  • Taking pride in their striving mightily toward their goals;
  • Seeing your children become the qualities I just described;
  • Watching them become capable and confident athletes;
  • Sharing their triumphs and defeats; and
  • Watching your children develop into successful, happy, and good people.

Now that is an investment I’m willing to make!

Want to be the best sport parent you can be? Take a look at my online course, Prime Sport Parenting 505: Raise Successful and Happy Athletes.

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