One of my girlfriends recently confessed that she’s paying thousands of dollars a year for football clinics, workshops, equipment and personal training for her son.
He’s not even 12.
The goal, she hopes, is a lucrative professional football contract in 20 years. A full-ride scholarship to a Big 10 school is a nice consolation prize, too.
While her intentions are noble — hey, who doesn’t want their kids to get a college education and make millions of dollars in Nike endorsements? — the cost is overwhelming. She and her husband aren’t rich. They live in a modest townhouse and make a modest income. And like most parents, they want the best for their son — who, by the way, loves playing football. But when does it become too much — and what happens when it’s not enough?
The New York Times recently published an article about parents who sacrifice to provide these opportunities for their kids — from tutoring to horseback riding to summer camps with professional athletes. Some have even take out loans, borrowed money from their families and maxed out credit cards just to pay for all these experiences they feel their children can’t miss — or feel guilty about denying.
But here’s the thing: there’s no evidence that shows these experiences will pay off in the end.
“It’s easy to take a look at the more successful kids and assume that all the activities are why they are more successful,” said Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University. “But research doesn’t bear that out.”
When I was growing up, both my parents worked — and they didn’t have time to take me to soccer practice or piano lessons. I grew up fending for myself, signing up for volleyball and basketball on my own in fourth grade — I was good at forging my mom’s signature — just to kill time before my parents could pick me up after work. We didn’t have the means or the time for the kinds of extracurricular activities kids today have.
Sometimes I wish I had done more, started earlier, learned a foreign language or played an instrument. And I wonder if I’m going to be one of those parents who give their kids all the opportunities I missed out on.
Then again, I actually played during my summers growing up. I went to the beach and hung out with my friends. Playing, to me, is an essential part of childhood. (Well, even adulthood, but that’s another blog.) I don’t think I would change that, either.
My girlfriend is making the best decisions she can for her son. She wants to provide him all the opportunities she can that will help him succeed in football — and life. I admire her commitment and devotion. And I know even if her son woke up one morning and said, “I’m over football,” he will have learned a lot from the experience.
Let’s hope he remembers to pay his mom back!