The strategy of family extracurricular activities


I hope you had a chance to read Laura’s blog post last week about the lack of information available for prospective college students about the long term financial consequences of student loans.  I thought it was an excellent post and have asked my college sophomore and high school junior to read it.  I have been talking to them for years about the many ways to prepare for their college costs so that they don’t graduate with a “mortgage on their lives”.  Thankfully, they have listened and have been very aggressive in taking AP classes, getting good grades, applying for scholarships and working when they can.  With some help from mom and dad, I think they will be lucky enough to get through with a relatively low level of debt.  I do wonder though if our family, and many others, could further reduce the level of college debt by rethinking some of their “priorities” to increase college savings.

One example of the above referenced priorities occurred to me this past weekend.  My son qualified to swim in the MISCA swim meet that brings together some of the fastest high school swimmers from around the state for a competition at Eastern Michigan University.  It quickly became obvious that most of the competitors (including my son) were swimming in $250 to $350 tech suits, which are only effective for five or six meets, with the hope of taking a couple tenths of a second off from their times.  In spite of the fact that very few of the swimmers will receive any kind of college assistance for their swimming, most families chose to splurge on these expensive, limited use suits.  I couldn’t help but wonder if many, including my own son, would have been better off skipping the tech suit and redirecting that money to their college funds.

The above is just one example of what sometimes seems like an imbalance in the amount of resources directed at youth sports these days.  At the extreme, I have seen friends and co-workers spend the equivalent of a college education supporting their young athletes in the pursuit of athletic excellence, only to have them burn out, or worse yet get injured, just prior to receiving that scholarship to continue playing in college.   Certainly, some will make it, but reality tells us that most will not.

I am not suggesting that youth sports are without benefit.  In fact, I have been an avid supporter as a coach, running an age group swimming program and proud parent.  The benefits to my family have been immense.  However, I do wonder if those same benefits would have been available without breaking the bank on fancy equipment, extensive travel and the multitude of expenses that come with competing at the level kids do today.  Perhaps we need to go back to letting the kids play for fun?  I suspect many parents, and their kids, would all be financially better off for it?