The start of the high school football season will offer a much-needed respite from all the heartache surrounding Hurricane Harvey (if only our Houston-area brethren, who really need the reprieve, were able to enjoy it, too). It’s also a good opportunity to reflect on what these young football players — really, all kids who play sports — hope and expect to get out of the game. Respect for hard work? A free ride to college? Fame and fortune in the pros?
At a time of extravagance in professional sports that includes state-of-the-art stadiums and ballparks where the expense is of no concern, it’s interesting to note the extent to which that largesse has made its way into youth sports. The age of sandlot games, $10 registration fees and kids riding off to their games on their bicycles feels like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Last week, Time magazine published a report on a phenomenon that came as no surprise to many in Texas: Youth sports has become a $15 billion industry, complete with national tournaments, sports camps, individual instruction and private coaches.
The costs can be incredible. Time documented parents paying as much as 10 percent of their income on registration fees, travel, equipment and camps. Some parents have established GoFundMe campaigns to raise money for out-of-state travel. Others have skipped car payments and put off home repairs to come up with the necessary cash.
The benefits of youth sports — and sports in general — are long-heralded and many. But this drastic evolution is worth taking stock of: Youth sports have transformed over the years from a local, community-based activity for kids and parents to enjoy, into an elite system with some teams being run by professional team owners and players sharing equity in youth sports franchises.
To what end? Some parents are spending tens of thousands of dollars a year with the hope their son or daughter will parlay that experience into tuition-free college and a pro career. In one example, a hitting coach said of a 10-year-old, “As long as he keeps putting in this work, he’s going to be a really, really solid baseball player at a really, really high level.”
“I’ve seen parents spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars pursuing a college scholarship,” Travis Dorsch, founding director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University, told Time. “They could have set it aside for the damn college.”
So, parents and kids should soak up all they can as kids once again start to play under the Friday night lights.
But do it with a dose of realism. When those high school football players put on their uniforms for their final game as seniors, it’s likely to be the last time they’ll suit up.