With the idea of their children one day getting an athletic scholarship to college or winding up on the podium in the Olympics, parents are spending an increasing amount of money. In fact, many are even putting off retirement to pay for travel sports, coaching and more, according to a new survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade.
On average, parents say a third of their income goes towards covering their children’s expenses, including sports, and 27 percent spend $500 or more per month on youth sports. The sacrifices parents are making to pay for their kids’ sports are well documented. They survey notes that in order to pay for their kids’ sports expenses, parents are taking fewer vacations (36 percent) or working a second job (19 percent). One in five (21 percent) sports parents are delaying retirement to pay for the expenses associated with youth sports.
This actually dovetails with findings during the recession a few years back. Many parents cut back on vacations, health club memberships and other amenities but continued their children’s involvement in sports programs. Some found creative ways to finance kids’ sports participation, including installment plans and video participation.
Sports parents interviewed for the survey had one or more children of all ages who play/played “club or elite competitive youth sports,” defined as “paying for highly competitive or elite club teams run by a non-school organization,” as well as more than $25,000 in investable assets.
The carrot at the end of the stick for many parents is a college athletic scholarship. In other words, a free ride to higher ed is the desired ROI for registration, equipment and travel fees for their kids.
“Many parents believe investing in their children’s athletics will pay off in the form of a college scholarship,” explained Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade.
But, said CBS News in 2012, only about two percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. And the average scholarship isn’t that much – about $11,000 – which leaves a lot of money to be made up by parents. There are only six sports where all the scholarships are full ride. These so-called head-count sports are football, men and women's basketball, and women's gymnastics, volleyball and tennis. In these Division I sports, athletes receive a full ride or no ride. And the TD Ameritrade report found that from 2016 to 2019, the number of sports parents’ children who secured an athletic scholarship has declined by more than half (24 percent in 2016; 11 percent in 2019).
Side note: ouch. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped the optimism; 20 percent of sports parents are certain that their child will secure a college athletic scholarship. And somehow, the majority of parents still believe college scholarships will cover more than half of tuition, and one in 10 are optimistic their child will receive a full ride.
The TD Ameritrade survey notes, “Parents are banking on their child receiving a college athletic scholarship as payoff for the investment they have made in their child’s sports. Parents are more confident that their child will receive a college scholarship than a few years ago, though the number who report having children who actually received one has dropped by half since 2016.”
And before you ask, no, the college admissions/athletic placement scandal doesn’t factor into this.
Additionally, parents often think the college scholarship will include an education the student can use in the future. In reality, says CBS News, Division I athletes may as well be called full-time employees of their schools because of the long hours they work. According to a NCAA survey last year, playing football required 43.3 hours per week; college baseball, 42.1 hours; men's basketball, 39.2 hours; and women's basketball, 37.6 hours. Because of the huge time commitment, as well as time away from campus, Division I athletes will often not be able to major in rigorous disciplines, such as the sciences and engineering. Many therefore gravitate to easier majors, many of which make it more difficult to find a job after graduation, should they not be able to fall back on sports.
And beyond – or maybe even instead of – college, there are plenty of parents who hope their kids will turn pro or make the Olympic team. In fact, TD Ameritrade found that 41 percent of dads expect their child to become a professional athlete. But the NCAA’s reality check is painful. Less than two percent of men’s basketball and football players will turn pro, as will less than one percent of women’s basketball players.
Full findings of the survey are available here.