Are Kids’ Sports an Investment for College?

We think, just maybe, if we spend enough money and push our son hard enough, he just might become the next LeBron James. But let’s step back a second and look at college and professional sports from a bigger picture. 

By Dave Ramsey

Any good parent will tell you he or she wants the best for their kids. It’s just a normal emotion that comes with being a parent. 

When it comes to sports, though, sometimes our parenting instincts get a little carried away. What starts as “wanting the best for our kids” turns into placing a high amount of pressure on our kids to be better than all the other kids. 

We do everything we can to make sure our kids are the absolute best. We’ll spend thousands of dollars on equipment, travel team fees and personal coaches. 

Why? Sure, we want our kids to be the best they can be. But, if we’re honest, we’re also thinking of all the future possibilities—a full athletic scholarship in college and (dare we dream?) a professional sports career making millions of dollars. 

Truth in the Numbers 

We think, just maybe, if we spend enough money and push our son hard enough, he just might become the next LeBron James. But let’s step back a second and look at college and professional sports from a bigger picture. 

  • Only 2% of high school athletes are awarded sports scholarships at NCAA schools.
  • Guaranteed “full-ride” scholarships are the exception, not the rule. Plus, only six sports offer them: football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, tennis and women’s gymnastics. (Other sports offer “equivalency scholarships,” in which coaches have the option to divide up all scholarship money however they see fit. Most result in partial scholarships, but there are exceptions.)
  • Most athletes have “partial scholarships” that only cover a portion of tuition.
  • Of the athletes skilled enough to play in college, anywhere from 1% (basketball) to 9% (baseball) will have enough game to play professionally.
  • CNBC says you have a better chance of being admitted to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford than receiving an athletic scholarship in a major sport.

 You may be saying, “That’s great, but my child is the exception.” 

Well, maybe. But odds are, your kid won’t get an athletic scholarship. And the odds are incredibly stacked against your kid—in that Lloyd Christmas “you’re telling me there’s a chance?” kind of way—when it comes to playing professional sports. 

Now before you call us a Debbie Downer, remember that there’s nothing wrong with dreaming. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to get a college scholarship. And, yes, it’s insanely difficult to play professional sports. But it does happen. All you need to do is turn on your television to realize that. 

We just want you to be reasonable in how you approach your kids playing sports. If you’re spending more money on their sports than you are putting in their college fund, then your priorities are out of whack. 

What if half of the money you put toward kids’ sports was going to a college fund instead? That’s your “scholarship” right there! 

Time to Reset the Reasons 

Sports can be a great teacher. Our kids learn about teamwork, discipline, work ethic, being a good loser and so many other important life lessons. Those are great reasons for kids to be involved in sports, not the highly unlikely chance that they’ll get a free ride to college. 

Keep an open mind about your kid’s future. Even if you have a 12-year-old who throws an 80 mile-per-hour fastball, that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to make millions. 

If he loves playing, there’s nothing wrong with supporting him 100%, but be reasonable with your expectations—and your budget—and keep him grounded about the possibilities for his future—whether it’s baseball or not. 

And if you have the money in the budget—and sports are a big priority for you and your kids—then, by all means, spend it! But be realistic, keep the bigger picture in mind, and make sure you’ve also planned for college and your kid’s non-sports future. 

Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, and CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored five New York Times best-selling books. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 8.5 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations. Dave’s latest project, EveryDollar, provides a free online budget tool. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at  

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