Monday, March 10, 2008

Parents: Get Real

I once watched a man sit in the stands at a high school softball game and receive a steady stream of congratulations from other adults. The man's "accomplishment" was the fact that his daughter had been granted a college athletic scholarship.

It seemed a bit odd to me at the time; after all, he hadn't won the scholarship, his daughter had. I didn't know the family (they were not from my town) and don't know where the young woman furthered her athletic career. It's a safe bet, however, that the scholarship wasn't as glossy as all those well-wishers thought.

There's a piece in the New York Times that ought to be required reading for any parent who thinks all those hours and dollars committed to a kid's youth sports career will pay off in a free ride to college. Sure, we all know families who won this weird form of lottery. But not unlike the folks you see on TV winning the Lotto, the full story is often missed.

The Times uses NCAA numbers to show that not only are the odds against getting any sort of scholarship (only 1 in 50 high school athletes will get any college athletic aid), but those who do get scholarships often get way less than the proverbial "full ride".

In fact, the average NCAA scholarship--including football and basketball--adds up to only about $10, 400 a year. Take the two big-money sports out and the figure drops to under $9,000. Sure, that's real money. But start doing the math on all the travel team fees, equipment, specialized coaching, injury rehab and the like, and you begin to wonder if it's worth it. And what's the value of a childhood sacrificed to this chase for cash?

The Times story ends with this quote from a young man who failed to make his college soccer team, after a childhood spent doing little but run after a soccer ball: "If if I had it to do over, I would have skipped a practice every now and then to go to a concert or a movie with my friends. I missed out on a lot of things for soccer. I wish I could have some of that time back.”

One wonders how things would have turned out if he and his family had focused on something other than the scholarship chase. Perhaps he'd have ended up like a young man I know, who attended a pricey Division III school (no scholarships) where he played 4 years of baseball and ended up with both a college degree and a pure love of his sport.

For those who insist on fixating on the money, consider this. A family that spends $7500 a year on Junior's youth sports career (on the low side, according to many) could instead invest that cash. If they started at age 8, Junior would have over $100,000 in college money at graduation time. In other words, more than twice the average NCAA scholarship.

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