Spending money on kids' sports: Worth it or not?

Tech culture might seen like all fun and games, like the kind memebers of the Founder Institute's Silicon Valley Sports League had at an event on July 13, 2013 in Palo Alto, Calif. But as Gabriel Roth explores in his new book, depend too heavily on data can create a difficult pull and tug on your human relationships.

We all want our kids to excel, but the cost of youth athletics can really do some damage to a family budget. Gym fees, private lessons, uniforms and travel to far-away tournaments can easily run into the thousands of dollars a year. 

But if your child is showing promise in a particular sport, dosen't it make sense to invest in their future?

Not necessarily, as new research from Utah State University's Families in Sport Lab points out. Like most of us, sports psychologist Travis Dorsch assumed that the children of parents who invested a lot of money in their kids' athletic participation had a better experience playing sports.

"We thought, to put it bluntly, that rich kids have all the fun. That parents who spend more on their childrens' particiation have better experiences, perhaps better equipment, more travel and more opportunities."

But, Dorsch says, the opposite turned out to be true. It turns out that when it comes to kids and sports, more money equals more pressure.

"What we found, in fact, was that parents and families who were spending more money on their childrens' sports were perceived as being more pressuring in their behaviors and that pressure led to less enjoyment and lower motivation to keep participating."

Parents in the study spent anywhere from 0 to 10.2 percent of their pre-tax income on their kids' sports. Many justify the cost by saying that a college scholarship or a career in professional sports is just around the corner. But, Dorsch says, the reality is that rarely happens.

"What parents need to be cautious of is what that spending is doing to their behaviors. Are they treating it like it's money out the door that's for the child's experience? Or are they treating it like an investment or a commodity where they expect a return on the back end? When the child perceives that the parent wants something at the end of their participation is where we get into the murky area," he says.

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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