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The Paradox of the Youth Sports Investment

Over the past year, I have built a career coaching business focused specifically on the needs of college graduates. Along the way, I have observed an interesting financial and parenting paradox.

As parents, in large numbers, we invest a lot of money in youth sports when the probability of a financial return on the investment (i.e. a college scholarship) is extremely low. However, as parents, we typically do not think to make an investment in career coaching for our children. We make this decision after paying for what can be the 2nd largest expense of our lives (a 4-year college education for our children). And yet, seeing our children secure that first full-time job and career post-graduation is the only straightforward way to monetize the investment.

So, there is the paradox. Youth sports are extremely popular but also very expensive with a limited probability for a positive financial return. Career coaching for college graduates is less prevalent but offers a high rate of financial return on one of life’s largest investments.

Let’s look at some observations and data on youth sports spending:

  • Youth sports are expensive: Across the spectrum of sports parents, the average annual spend on youth sports per child is $7,800. That equates to over $31,000 for a 4-year high school career. (1)

  • Availability of athletic scholarships and professional contracts are limited: Less than 2% of high school athletes will receive a college athletic scholarship across a wide range of sports. And less than 2% of those college athletes will go on to play a professional sport. (1) and (2)

Now let’s look at some of the data on college education and jobs post-graduation:

  • A four-year college degree is a major investment: The average cost range for a 4-year college degree ranges from $56,000 at an In State Public University to $104,000 at a Private Non-Profit College. (3)

  • Settling for the wrong job can be costly: Graduating from college and starting in an under employed position (position does not require bachelor’s degree and may not match major and career path) will pay $12,000 per year less than a position matched to the degree earned. That discrepancy can add up to over $375,000 in lost income over a 30-year career. (4)

  • The cost for career coaching: A typical 10-week career coaching package for a college graduate will cost in the range of $1,000 to $2,000. (5)

So how do we rationalize this behavior and explain the paradox?

  1. It is difficult to look at our spending on youth sports as a purely financial investment. We want the best for our children and we see physical and emotional benefits from active participation in a wide range of sports. And watching our children compete is pure joy and a reward in and of itself.

  2. Sport is, by definition, a competition. The need for participants to develop a competitive advantage is clear. Specialized coaching, trainers and travel teams are, while expensive, a viable solution to securing that competitive advantage for our children.

  3. We believe that securing a job is a straightforward process that should not require any coaching. Get your degree, write your resume, apply for jobs online, get the interview and get the job. Plus, the job market (like the stock market) has been strong for the better part of the last decade.

  4. Today’s college and university career centers offer a full range of career and job search resources. And there is no charge for most services beyond the annual tuition payment.

However, there is a danger in simply accepting this rationalization. The reality of the job search for the recent college graduate is that the prize for 1st place and that offer of full time employment will take a lot of work and skills development. You can’t have rationalization without risk.

  • Only 31% of college grads (Seniors) have a full-time position upon graduation. (6)

  • The average amount of time for a recent college graduate to find the first full time position that matches both education and career path expectations can range from 3 to 9 months. (7)

  • For the self-motivated student, everything he or she needs to build a competitive advantage in their career search is available right through the career center. But there is another segment of the student population that requires more focused 1:1 coaching and training. They may need a “Chief Motivational Officer” to help them map out a career and job search action plan. They need a coach to help them refine the job search and networking skills that will last them a lifetime.

So, what do I advocate for us as parents? Make that youth sports investment to the extent that your son or daughter loves the sport and you can enjoy the maximum qualitative benefits from watching their participation. They are truly only young for a brief time. And as they head off to college, stay focused not just on their academic and personal growth but also the development of their job and career search skills. Be sure they are taking full advantage of their career center services. And if you sense that they need more 1:1 support to secure their future after graduation, consider that additional investment in a career coach.

Dan Troup is the founder of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a certified career coach can assist you in your job search, please contact AdvantEdge Careers at:

1 = TD Ameritrade study published in USA Today 9/5/17; 2 = data in MarketWatch article 1/24/18; 3 = The College Board 2017; 4 = Korn Ferry 2017 and Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017; 5 = AdvantEdge Careers 2018; 6 = After College 2017-2018 Student Career Insight Survey; 7 = The Balance 2017.


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