Monday, February 16, 2015
Don’t kid yourself. When you bring your sweet 6-year-old into the soccer store to get her first kit, you’re starting down a long road of financial obligation. Sure, that uniform bundle with its tiny, cute black cleats, mini shin guards, and crisp jersey and shorts only costs $30. The store may even throw in a ball. You and your child are hooked. Like the wicked queen offering Snow White the apple, the sales clerk practically cackles. He knows you’ll be back, and next time won’t be such a bargain. This is the tale for all youth activities. If your son gets good at the trumpet, that used instrument you rent monthly won’t do any longer. Piggy-back that expense with the private lessons beyond what he learns in school band. Actors, artists, musicians, athletes and scholars manage to drain the wallet as they grow, improve, and narrow their passions. Soccer is no exception. Sure, one reason soccer is so popular world-wide is because it really only requires something round to kick. But as players grow, improve and focus, they can’t develop with a cantaloupe. They need money.
The uniform is just the beginning. Kids outgrow cleats quickly, and the bigger their feet, the higher the cost. Those tiny size 3 cleats may come in a package deal, but eventually kids morph into the “real” cleats with real price tags. Junior cleats can be under $100, but all too soon they become $150 to $250. Trust me, your children won’t want the utilitarian cleats, they want the ones Messi wears or the electric orange ones or the super lightweight ones, which ironically use the least materials and cost the most. Instead of a single jersey and pair of shorts, kids will need a home and an away jersey, warm-ups, a bag, and Nike Hyperwarm gear for those cold days. It won’t stop at what they need; it piles on with what they want. They’ll want their idol’s uniform, and while you’ll try to steer them to the practice jersey, they’ll want the game shirt at double the cost. Balls can be inexpensive, but I guarantee that eventually you’ll need to spring for the pricier version even the budget-busting commemorative ones.
Kids will play on recreation teams for a minimal cost as they start out. Those are the salad days, when the check you write doesn’t equal the mortgage payment. Enjoy it while it lasts. Later, when making the decision to move up to a select club, you want to verify that your player is ready for that commitment and that you are willing to foot the financial obligation. While not really bait and switch, you need to keep in mind that whatever fees the club charges for being on a team are just a starting point of expenses. Even if you and your family don’t travel with the player to tournaments and away games, there will still be substantial costs for those events. Beyond transportation costs there will be lodging, meals, and support such as sports drinks and snacks. You’ll need to multiply these costs by the number of family members who attend. You might think it’s silly to mention, but we spent quite a bit on tournament T-shirts, programs, photos, and DVDs – a hidden cost that adds up over the years. Since these costs can be prohibitive for some families, it’s a good idea to buddy up with other families to share the expenses. Players sharing a room and transportation can really help out. Some clubs will rent a bus for tournaments in driving range. That can significantly reduce expenses.
Many parents, in the hopes of their child getting a college athletic scholarship, will pay for private lessons and fitness training. It can get really pricey, really fast. Playing soccer at a college level is an honor, which I think is worthy of striving towards. But if parents think that a scholarship is going to cover all the costs, they are mistaken. Even the best players rarely get a full ride. If an out-of-state student plays at a state-funded university, he will pay the out-of-state tuition. Players who attend a private school may end up with a bigger bill than if they paid full tuition at one of their own state schools. If you took all the money you spent on soccer over the years, invested it in a conservative college fund, you’d probably have more money for your child’s education than any athletic scholarship they might earn. Therefore, before writing lots of checks, be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons: your child loves soccer and loves playing at a top level. Everything else will just be icing on the cake. Don’t go into debt if you can help it, and definitely don’t short-change other kids in order to support one.
Beware of the camps, which many colleges and universities offer with the promise that your child will be scouted by their coaches. Any player who contacted a college coach or plays on a high school team or plays on a competitive select team will receive the email invitations. These are phrased by the same people who tell you you’ve won a Caribbean cruise. When you read them, you believe you’re one of a very select group. Remember that these camps are huge money-makers for the schools and area coaches. Yes, the player will be seen by a variety of coaches, but these camps may not be the most efficient and powerful way to get noticed. They are certainly not the most cost-effective unless the camp is run by a number of institutions, rather than just one. They run around $300-$800 not counting transportation to and from. If your child is looking at just five (although most look at around 10) programs, you’re looking at a first year’s tuition just to attend camps – probably not the wisest use of your money. Schools will also imply that if your player doesn’t attend the camp, he or she will not be considered by the program. Hogwash! No recruitment program is going to pass on a great player just because she didn’t attend their summer camp. I’m not suggesting players shouldn’t attend a camp or two, but be smart. Consider camps at institutions your child has a chance of entering. Stanford and Notre Dame may not be realistic if grades and test scores aren’t sterling. Top 20 programs probably won’t consider a player who isn’t already being heavily recruited. On the other hand, some schools will join forces, so for the same amount of money as an individual camp a player can be seen by up to 10 schools. Another category of camps are those run by famous coaches who promise to improve a player’s skill and fitness. Check the reputation of these programs before submitting your credit card. Some are better than others, and since these can be the most expensive because they focus on training, you want to be sure they address the strengths and weaknesses of your child. Finally, there are the overseas opportunities. Players won’t necessarily be scouted or trained, but they will get a much broader view of soccer and how it is played outside of America. There are some significant benefits to these camps, which have little to do with getting a scholarship or improving skills. Getting an expanded world view in this increasingly global economic, political and social atmosphere can be invaluable for students. Plus, having the experience of playing with and against teams outside of the U.S. does look good on the resume.
I’ve stored away each son’s first kit. They will be a good reminder of where the passion began. They are also a good reminder of where all our retirement savings went. Bronzing the shoes would be a small investment compared to the tens of thousands we spent over the years. However, I don’t regret a dime of those expenditures. We shared some amazing adventures as a family, our sons had the opportunity to commit to and succeed at their passion, and we all had a full lives. Soccer is a language we can speak even when we might be uncomfortable with other discussions, and it will always be an enthusiasm we shared. Each family needs to decide how much they are willing to do financially. No one needs to feel guilty should they have to say no to any opportunity because of financial reasons. There is plenty of soccer available that can be played and enjoyed for less money. Our sons played on their college teams with players who had far more training and scouting than they had and those who had far less. Good soccer players will be noticed even if they are wearing used cleats and last year’s jersey.