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More Money, More Problems

Photograph by Instagram

My kids just don't go for organized sports. Truth be told, while I've always envied the families whose kids eat that stuff up, I'm also relieved that my daughters didn't go all in on soccer or swimming or ballet or all those other competitive activities they tried. Because once you're past the Park and Rec phase, which is pretty limited where I live, you're looking at serious financial investment. Team registration fees, T-shirts, costumes or uniforms, pads/guard/helmets, the actual equipment. And don't get me started on travel teams, where families drop a fortune on hotel rooms and eating out, travel and trophies, and future therapy for over-scheduled kids.*

RELATED: Forcing Kids Into Extracurriculars

Still, I can't help but feel a little worried that my thrifty ways will keep my kids from excelling in the boardroom as adults. Isn't investing in your child's extracurricular activities, especially girls, part of the cost of a well-rounded childhood?

Sports psychologist Travis Dorsch thought so until he finished his recent study. Dorsch had expected to find that the more parents spent on their kids' sports programs and teams the more motivated the kid would be. Other recent studies showed that parental support benefits young athletes—so why wouldn't higher spending push kids to develop better skills and become more competitive? Apparently, money raises the stakes too much for everyone.

Dorsch told the Wall Street Journal, which reported on his study of the connection between spending and athletic motivation, that the problem isn't financial. It's that money tended to equal pressure for the kid.

As parental spending increased, kids reported a decrease in enjoyment and motivation.

Dorsch first looked at how families spent money on sports. He surveyed 163 parents, more than half of whom were women, and found that few parents spent more than 5 percent of their total income on their kids' sports endeavors. A majority—60 percent—spent less than 1 percent of their income. About a quarter of the respondents spent 1 to 2 percent of their gross income on sports. Dorsch also surveyed the child athletes in the family. What he found across the board is that as parental spending increased, kids reported a decrease in enjoyment and motivation. One family spent more than $20,000 per year on a daughter's team participation, yet the daughter reported feeling highly pressured and not very interested in getting out there and playing. The pressure she and other kids were feeling? It's the pressure to do well for Mom and Dad. Uh-oh.

So what's the ideal way of raising a student athlete? Letting them pick their sport for one thing. And apparently not harping on the cost. One particularly motivated and un-pressured, but highly competitive, kid in the survey said he didn't know what his family spent on his martial arts career. ($6K . . . 8% of the family's income!) Showing you have faith in their abilities and telling them if they're going to do it, do it right, came up frequently in families with successful and happy elite athletes.

RELATED: In Defense of Skipping Extracurriculars

On the off chance that my kids find a sport they really want to become competitive in, I'll keep that in mind. In the meantime, we'll keep looking, trying new things, and doing nothing at all sometimes. And above all: keep overhead low. My kids don't need a reason to feel unmotivated about doing something they're already borderline unmotivated about in the first place.

*just a guess

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