When it comes to kids’ sports, every parent wants to hear the coach say, “Your child has real potential.” With that simple praise of talent, visions of college scholarships and big-league contracts suddenly dance on the horizon. Before long parents are planning their summers around a child’s competitive sport, hemorrhaging time and money in ways they never imagined.

So what should a parent consider before diving headlong into the next level of competitive youth sports? Here are three key factors that should guide parents in that all-consuming quest to give our kids distinction in sports.

Whose Big Dream Is It?

Now and again every parent lives vicariously through their child. We can’t help it. You remember that glorious basketball season in 10th grade when you shot the winning basket in the final tournament, and you want to relive the glory a little bit through your child’s sport. Watching your son or daughter excel at a sport is a powerful feeling for parents. After all, playing a competitive sport at a high level can develop many positive character traits that carry into adulthood.  Moreover, with the rising cost of college tuition, it’s understandable that many parents want to push their kids into a sport with the hope of them earning scholarship money one day. But Education Data reports that, on average, athletic scholarships are offered to less than 2% of high school graduating athletes. So it behooves parents to ask themselves: Who is driving the athletic ambition in the family, and what is the end goal? If we’re not careful, a parent can become a dominating, negative “coach” who focuses too hard on athletics. It can be difficult to do, but parents have to revisit the important question of whose dream it is to play competitive sports.

By all means, help your child stay committed to a sport during the on-season (encourage his or her attendance at mandatory practices and games), but at its conclusion, revisit the important questions. Am I wanting this sport for my child more than she is? If the answer is yes, then it may be time for a break-up. You don’t want to be that mom or dad on the sidelines furiously yelling at your disenchanted child to work harder on the field. It’s awkward and painful for everyone. Instead, sit down with your son or daughter and gently ask, ‘Do you want to continue playing this sport?’ Your child will be grateful that you asked. After all, deep down most kids don’t want to disappoint their parents. Give your son or daughter the opportunity to be honest with you.

Our kids are growing and changing fast—physically and emotionally—and what suits them one year may not be true next season, despite natural talent. As their loving guardians, we have to be willing to adjust our expectations.

Consider the Family Schedule

If your son or daughter wants to continue in a high-commitment sport, it’s vital to consider the whole family’s schedule. Practice twice a week, (if not more) games on weekends and clinics in between can be a pace that will make your head spin. But this kind of weekday + weekend commitment to a sport has become normal in American families. It’s no wonder kids want to quit in the middle of a season; they get burned out on the pace. The sport becomes a grind and is no longer fun. There’s school, jobs, social time, chores and so much more when they leave the playing field.

The harried pace of highly competitive sports causes strain on the family unit. Gone are sit-down meals together (there’s just no time between school and sports practice). Also, it’s not uncommon for a sports team to consume a whole weekend. Sundays used to be a day when American families tended to take things slower. But don’t expect a relaxed Sunday morning if your child plays a high-commitment sport. Teams often hold practices and games on Sunday mornings, leaving the family with little or no time to rest.

And if there are other siblings in the family with their own activities and commitments, it’s nearly impossible for a family to stay emotionally connected. It’s vital to truly consider whether commitment to a sport works for the whole family.

Money, Money, Money

When the regular season ends, many youth sports offer summer club leagues that travel in and out of state for tournaments. These teams are geared to kids who want to take their commitment up a level. But when the coach offers your son or daughter a spot on the summer traveling team, remember to pause and carefully consider your family budget. According to www.marriagekidsandmoney.com it’s not uncommon for club teams to require initial dues at over $2,000 and that’s just the start. In Texas, club baseball is very expensive. Athletics writer, Tasha Vanden Heuvel, reports that one child in travel baseball can cost parents up to $4,000 a year. Team dues, hotels, food and gear add up fast. www.collegerealitycheck.com.

Summer break is when people plan family reunions and memorable vacations. Does traveling with a sports team eight weekends out of summer break allow your family to spend time and money for special trips? It takes a lot of paychecks to save money for special vacations. One family reports having to use their entire vacation budget to pay for their daughter’s summer cheerleading competition held in Disney World. But only one of the parents and the competing daughter could attend. Ask yourself before you say yes whether extending a sports commitment to summer break is worth all that money.

If your child loves to play a sport and wants to take the commitment up a notch, be excited, but by all means, look into it. Before you jump in, consider these factors: Who is driving the athletic dream? Does the next level of commitment suit your family’s schedule? And lastly, how much money are you willing to pay into that sport? Consider wisely and let a sense of balance guide your family.


Jess Archer is a writer, a mom of two kids and a wife. She is the author of the memoir, “Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Billy Graham.”

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