PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 192 | Make Money Or Support Your Child’s Athletic Dream

In this week's podcast, I discuss the perverse overlap between your prime earning years and your child's prime athletic development years. How do we justify spending extra time at the office when we know our child's window of opportunity is so finite and fleeting? Do we maximize our income in the name of pragmatism or throttle back our professional ambitions in order to support our children during the 8 year window when they need us the most?

Show Transcript:

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to talk about the challenges parents face, trying to weigh how much time to devote to their careers and their income earning potential versus how much time to devote to their children, in this case, their child's athletic aspirations. And you'll feel similar tension in other activities besides sports, music, theater, robotics, you name it.

But since youth sports is so ubiquitous and so relatable to so many parents, I've chosen to use it as the lens from which to look at these issues. Let's start by identifying the most critical years in a young athletes career. In my opinion, those years would be from eight years old to 16 years old. I call this window the Golden eight, the most important eight years when it comes to a child's athletic development.

That's not to say that children shouldn't play sports or shouldn't attempt to excel at sports until they're eight years old. But a child will typically only be so good as a four or five six year old. Now, there are exceptions, as we've heard about, but there are few and far between by the time they turn eight. However, the athletic machinery known as youth sports is really starting to turn.

Competition starts to pick up differentiation in skills between the recreational level athlete and the club level athlete starts to emerge and there's pressure to start thinking about specializing in a particular sport. Now, I'm not suggesting that you should decide on a specialization versus a multi sport strategy by the age of eight. Maybe that makes sense. Maybe it doesn't.

There are just too many variables to generalize here. I'm simply suggesting that if you plan to pay close attention to your child's athletic trajectory with the goal of helping them excel in sports to help their chances of an athletic scholarship, for example, then you should start paying very close attention to their progress, starting at about age eight. And then you'll need to keep close tabs on them in this regard for the next eight years until they turn 16 years old.

And by keeping close tabs, I mean, for all intents and purposes, devoting a significant amount of your time, energy, money and resources to this end. And if you're a parent with an athlete in the family right now, you know what I mean by this? I'm talking weekdays weeknights. Weekends, holidays, summers. I'm talking thousands and thousands of dollars for teen dues, uniforms, travel, hotels, gas, duffel bags, cleats, entry fees, personal training, nutrition, the latest and greatest new gear.

I'm talking hours and hours of debates about joining this club or that club, emailing this coach or that coach, comparing this player to that player, reviewing tournament schedules, not to mention the mental toll of managing injuries, hospital visits, X-rays, MRI's, physical therapy, return to play protocols and all of the mental and emotional baggage that comes along for the ride.

And you should expect to keep up this pace for eight straight years until your child is 16. Some of you might be wondering, well, why stop at 16 by the time your child turns 16? You pretty much know whether this eight year experiment worked or didn't work, because by then, in most cases, the die has been cast. They have either become a legitimate athlete or not.

And by legitimate an athlete, I mean a scholarship level recruited division one level athlete or a non scholarship level recruited division three athlete, or of course, a division two athlete. You should know by the time they're 16, they're also typically driving by 16, at least with a permit, which usually means the end of your relationship as you know it.

No longer are they beholden to you. No longer are they tethered to you for every ride to practice games, scrimmages, workouts. They're on their own and you will rarely see them again. So the question is how committed are you to the Golden eight? Are you all in or are you on the fence? I submit to you that the only way your child has a shot of making it to the next level in today's super competitive athletic environment is if you commit to the eight year pain train is if you decide upfront and intentionally that you're willing to put nearly everything else on hold during the golden age from eight years old to 16 years old.

Knowing, by the way, that it's very likely statistically that the experiment will fail and your child will never be good enough to get to the next level. How's that for a gut check? Because the number of student athletes in high school who actually become college athletes, especially recruited scholarship athletes, is vanishingly small. We've all heard the statistics very, very, very few.

Even star high school athletes end up threading the needle to the point where they actually play at the college level. Those are the facts. Now, you can argue that your son or daughter will be one of the few who makes it through awesome. That's the type of attitude that you'll need. But just understand that the odds are stacked against us.

But wait, there's more. Not only do you have to make this eight year leap of faith, as I've suggested, and put a lot of time, money, energy and mindshare into this experiment which has a statistically low probability of success. But you also have to do so right smack dab in the middle of your prime earning years when you are supposed to be committing an equally ambitious amount of time commitment, travel, resources and mindshare to your job as an engineer, a sales manager, a law partner, a bank executive, a head of research, a doctor, an entrepreneur as a 42 year old, 46 year old, 50 year old executive manager, decision maker.

You are somehow, in addition to paying close attention to every move your child makes on the basketball court on the lacrosse field, supposed to also be equally focused on that next promotion. Beating those quarterly sales quotas, opening that new office training, those new hires. And so I ask you, how do we square that circle? How do we do both things at the same time and do them well?

Or can we? And mind you, as an aside, that eight year window that we've been talking about, the Golden eight, it can expand quickly. Don't forget, every time you have another child, that eight year window resets. So if you have three children over a six year span, that eight year window becomes a 14 year window. It becomes the golden 14.

For example, let's say your first child turns eight when you're 38. Your second child turns eight when you're 40 and your third child turns eight when you're 44. You won't be off that eight year train until you're 52, which means that between 38 and 52 years old, traditionally known to be your prime earning years, your time and attention should actually be devoted mostly to your three kids and their high school sports careers.

How does that sound? And once again, I'm generalizing here. There may be factors that make this scenario either easier or harder for you. For example, what could make this juggling act even more difficult than it already is? What about the athlete who has two parents who happen to work full time in jobs with long and unpredictable hours? What about the athlete who only has one parent?

What about the athlete whose family struggles financially and can't afford the travel? The dinners out? The new gear? What about the athlete who doesn't appear to have the potential to become a recruited athlete or a scholarship athlete but wants to do it anyway? What about the athlete who is constantly dogged with injuries and never builds up enough momentum to see if he or she really has what it takes to make it?

What about the athlete whose well-intentioned parents aren't up for the job physically, emotionally, financially? What about the athlete whose body type doesn't align well with their sport? I'm thinking the five foot, five inch basketball player. Do any of these drags on the system apply to you? If so, you need to have even more intestinal fortitude to go for it.

On the other hand, what could make this juggling act a bit easier to manage than at first blush? What about an athlete who has to competent and committed parents who are able to share some of the load? What about an athlete who is so talented athletically that they can overcome having less involved parents? What about an athlete whose family has enough financial resources that they can outsource some of the responsibility?

They can hire SAT tutors, authorize Uber rides, seek out professional coaching and trainers, hire an admissions advisor, nutritionists. Spending money can sometimes buy back some of the attention that the parent is unable or unwilling to provide. What about the athlete who has a parent or parents who have flexible jobs that allow them to prioritize demanding athletic obligations? What about an athlete who, as a parent or parents who proactively take jobs that allow for this type of lifestyle?

What about an athlete with an extended family or a community that pitches in to help in any way they can? What about an athlete whose parents already went through the process with an older sibling or older siblings? Who's more experienced and efficient with their time? They've been there before. As you can see, there are extenuating circumstances that can either add pressure or reduce the pressure inherent in this process.

So my challenge to you is to digest everything we just talked about the good, the bad, the ugly, the conditions that make this scenario easier or more difficult. And think about your level of commitment to the goals. And eight and I hope you can appreciate that. I'm not trying to sway you in one direction or the other. There's no right or wrong answer here for any athlete or any family.

Everybody has different priorities, different resources, different visions for their lives, different values. What I'm trying to do is raise your awareness about the stakes involved in having a child that aspires to be a recruited athlete in college and to give you an appreciation for what it may demand of you and your family. I want you to consider what level of commitment you're willing to put in and when and at what cost.

Before it's too late. Because if you have a 14 year old who wakes up one morning claiming to want to be a college athlete and you're starting from scratch, you've got to make up six years of lost time essentially overnight. That may not be impossible, but boy, will the planets have to be aligned for you to thread that needle.

After going through this process with my four sons and helping at this point hundreds of other families and friends navigate these waters. There are a few things I know for sure. Number one, if you are not paying attention and not being intentional about your role in the process, your child will absolutely blow through those golden eight years before you know what hit you.

And it will be over. And a snap of the fingers. It's done. It's gone. Come what may. And I would say that this is what happens a majority of the time. If parents aren't paying attention. And secondly, and lastly, if you are so busy with work and focused on maximizing your income during your prime earning years, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Don't be surprised when you miss the golden eight years because those years will fly by. This is not an easy topic to think about. It's not an easy topic to talk about with your spouse and your children because it forces you to prioritize your values. It forces you to make decisions about some very sensitive issues about parenting and ambitions and the realities of life.

If you'd like to discuss this topic and the specifics of your family's situation, maybe to help with some decision making with me, feel free to reach out to me and we'll set up a consulting call. I wish you all the best of luck. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support.

In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos. For me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great.

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