COMMENTARY | It’s advice known from coast-to-coast: When getting ready for college applications, older teens want to have a full, well-rounded resume, mixing academic excellence with some “real world” grit. While some get this grit from part-time jobs and/or volunteer work, many get some of it from sports. While elite high school athletes gun for lucrative college scholarships, even those who aren’t at the level of signing letters of intent get an edge in the application game by displaying their ability to cooperate with a team, do hard work, and compete. Society wants young scholars who can sweat it out with the team as well as hit the books.
But a little bit goes a long way when it comes to parental involvement in kids’ sports, research finds. According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers found that, beyond a certain point, increased parental spending on kids’ sports resulted in increased stress and apathy on the part of the athletes, possibly negating the return on the investment.
The researchers’ caution to avoid overspending on sports should be a wake-up call to schools as well as parents. For far too long, society has placed too much emphasis on sports as opposed to academics. In fact, if many parents put a fraction of their sports energy into encouraging academic success we would likely not have middling test scores compared to other industrialized nations. How do I know?
I live in Midland, Texas. Yes, the Midland from the Friday Night Lights book and subsequent movie, which inspired the popular TV show. Midland’s sister city, Odessa, is still known for Friday Night Lights and Permian High School is still identified in national news as the Friday Night Lights school. Yes, Midland and Odessa form the nation’s capital for high school football. And the zeal with which Midlanders and Odessans pursue football is carried over into other sports.
My wife and I know people who pour countless hours, and a sizable chunk of their income, into youth sports. Every weekend they travel to baseball, soccer, and hockey tournaments across the state. In addition to paying to play on club teams, headed by professional coaches, they plunk down big bucks to stay in hotels in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Practices are nightly and free weekends are rare.
Grades suffer, finances are drained, houses stay dirty and unkempt, and who is happy?
As a teen, I knew many friends and classmates who get burned out on sports after years of playing on expensive club teens, hoping for college scholarships. While full-ride scholarships were rare, the intense competition was harmful by pushing many teens out of high school sports. Many average teens who wanted to participate in sports were quickly forced out, told by coaches they were not good enough. It was impossible for average teens to compete with peers who had been playing on club teams since the age of ten.
Our overparenting zeal when it comes to encouraging youth sports has created “inflation” when it comes to athletics – the costs are too high and many who would benefit from the camaraderie and physicality of sports are forced out. Average children and teenagers who want to play and develop skill are quickly made to feel outclassed and unable to keep up. Can’t handle the thousands of dollars per season? Don’t play.
While it costs roughly the same for all students to compete inside the classroom, the costs of extracurricular sports can be a substantial burden for many, making it imperative to discourage the inflation of athletics costs. When some parents splurge others are encouraged to follow, putting tremendous pressure on their kids. These resources and stresses begin crowding out focus on other areas, such as academic performance or volunteer work.