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How to be a great sports parent

April 30, 2015

By Paul Brucker

Playing organized sports is the norm for U.S. kids. About 75% of American families with school-aged children have at least one kid who participates in an organized sport. But here’s the rub: While many parents invest a lot of money and emotion to ensure that their kids play well, this involvement can backfire. If the parents go about encouraging their child in the wrong way, they can dampen their kid’s enthusiasm for the game. At any rate, 80% of the kids who play organized sports quit by the time they reach age 15, according to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine.

For many parents, helping their kid progress in sports is one of the joys of raising a child. Lots of parents pay for their kids’ sports fees and equipment, provide transportation to and attend their children’s practices and games, plus fundraise for the team. Many parents may help their kids perfect their skills by practicing with them. And others seek to also give their kid an additional edge by paying for clinics, fitness trainers and coaches, or even therapists.

The Wall Street Journal recently documented a family that spends $6,000 (about 8% of its household income) on their 12-year-old child’s Taekwondo lessons, equipment competitions, travel to tournaments and related expenses. So far that exchange seems to be working out well for the boy and his parents.

Generally, across the country, most Americans (60%) spend less than 1% of gross income on their children’s sports, while 2% spend more than 5%, according to a study by Utah State University sports psychologist Travis Dorsch.

The potential downside: The more parents spend, the more kids feel of pressure of doing well for mom and dad, says Dorsch, a former NFL kicker.

The problem occurs when a parent crosses the threshold from giving positive encouragement to becoming overly involved and identifying too closely with their kid’s sport success. In this case, the parent focuses on his or her own feelings rather than their kid’s. The parent may become pushy, intrusive and shaming. They may demonstrate their frustration if their kid misses an easy layup, swings at a lousy pitch or generally doesn’t hustle enough. At any rate, these parents risk caring more about how well their kid plays rather than the kid’s general well-being. Meanwhile, the youngster may become so discouraged that competing becomes a source of dread, rather than fun.

On the other hand, a lot of parents are a constructive influence on how their kids enjoy sports and develop sport skills. Some of these parents make a conscious decision to be a good role model – to remain calm, enthusiastic, thoughtful and encouraging. This helps kids use sports to gain some valuable life lessons. These lucky kids have the chance to see setbacks and mistakes as learning experiences. They may become willing to take more risks and learn that losing in sports is not the end of the world, but rather an opportunity to get feedback on how to improve and regain motivation.

Playing organized sports as a kid is certainly no guarantee of someday going pro and making a lot of money. Only one in 6,000 high school football players will make it to the NFL, and only two and a half out of 10,000 high school basketball players will make it to the NBA.

Yet, playing sports as a kid has its own rewards. It’s a great opportunity to have fun, become physically fit, learn good sportsmanship and develop a love and mastery of a game they may enjoy throughout their lifetime.