How much does a soccer scholarship really cost? (Pt. 1 of 2)

By Dr. Wendy Lebolt

Editor’s note: This is the latest column from Dr. Wendy Lebolt, a longtime coach and physiologist who is the founder of Fit2Finish, a Northern Virginia-based training, fitness and rehabilitation company which works with teams and individual players to maximize health and performance. The Soccer Wire is excited to present Wendy’s learned perspectives on the mental, physical and psychological aspects of the beautiful game. Learn more about her background here.

Easy come, easy go. It’s just money, right? Spent by the thousands per year on your middle school- and high school-aged soccer player, for club fees, tournaments, travel, equipment, spirit wear, food. And if they’re “good enough,” there’s state and regional ODP, perhaps national tournament travel and play.

How much is enough to invest in the hopes of a soccer scholarship?

A Washington Post article from February 2009 estimated annual costs for an elite club player in Northern Virginia at approximately $11,750 per year. Add in one-time costs like international trips, Region I Premier League and the like, and the three-year total swells to $41,150. Cortlyn Bristol, the athlete whose mother was quoted in the Post feature, is in her third year of play on a soccer scholarship at William & Mary. According to another member of her family, Cortlyn hopes to turn pro. “She has never had a summer job; all she knows is soccer.”

But anyone who looks at her would say she’s successful; she plays college ball.

Bristol hails from Chantilly, Va., but this is not just a phenomenon of the Mid-Atlantic region. A family I spoke with from the New England area has supported their daughter’s dream to play collegiately. Her father says their family is frugal by nature, admitting they drive rather than fly to destinations where it’s possible, even when the rest of the team flies. Still, he estimates they have spent approximately $45,000-$55,000 on her youth soccer career. This includes national and regional tournaments requiring week-long trips the family substituted for vacations, mostly booked at full price due to last-minute team selection notifications.

Currently, this young player is redshirting in her second year at a topnotch soccer school in Florida, hoping she might break into the regular playing rotation. So far, she’s gotten only “pity minutes” of playing time, according to her father. Success?

Both of these kids have made it to the college playing ranks. Their families have sacrificed much, investing not only money but time and travel, not to mention countless hours dedicated to driving them to various practices and events. When you add up the dollars, the sacrifice, and the intangible expenses, is it worth it?

How much is your kid worth? Surely, they’re priceless. But priceless is getting more expensive in youth sports. A few years ago a friend and I had a good laugh about a parent who actually brought his nine-year-old football player for personal training at the local health club. He wanted the kid to get a leg up on the competition.

No one is laughing any more.

Parents are flocking to “professionals” to put their kids through the paces in their sport of choice. And this is on top of the three practices a week the kid already attends. The thinking, I guess, is that “If some is good, more must be better.”

Let me buy my kid better. If we have the money and want to be responsible parents, we are supposed to do all we can for our kids, right?

But do we fund their dreams, at all costs?

That’s our hard-earned money we’re spending, and let’s be honest, when we pay for something, we expect to get something for our money. Even if we don’t admit it, when we pay for training we expect our kids to play better. We expect playing time, wins, even state and national rankings.

If they don’t come, do we find another trainer, another team? Do we blame our kid for not trying hard enough, not wanting it enough, for “doggin’ it”? Then insist he go to practice even though he’s exhausted, has tons of homework and is coming down with a cold because…we paid for it.

So, let’s look at our spending. What can you buy for about $12,000 per year? Last time I checked: annual in-state tuition at the University of Virginia, in-state tuition plus room and board at the College of William & Mary, the same at George Mason University, maybe all four years at Northern Virginia Community College. You get my point. The families who have shelled out what elite youth soccer demands have invested the equivalent of a college education in their kids’ soccer, before they get to college. When it comes right down to it, we’re thinking “Some college program better want them.”

No pressure.

The reality, of course, is that while college soccer opportunities across the country are growing, so is the pool of players vying for spots. An outstanding athlete must now be an exceptional player to earn a soccer scholarship at an NCAA Division I school. (DII and DIII can’t match the funds.) And most of these programs have already allocated their scholarship money to snare the best players by their sophomore year in high school. So, here you have spent thousands on your kid’s budding college career, only to find that the compensatory payoff may not be forthcoming. You start scratching your head justifying the expense: Well …if you can get into a better school because of your soccer…if you’ll have tutoring support because you’re on the roster…if the travel and team experience will be worth it.

And wait – this is college after all – what about academics? Professional soccer is not an option but for a handful of these players. What if your kid is going to college to get an education (They still do this!) and play soccer along the way? What will the demands of collegiate soccer do to their grades, their social life, the rest of their college experience?

Check back next week, when Dr. Lebolt delves further into the pros and cons of the hunt for a college scholarship, including her own family’s experience on this topic.

By | October 18, 2012 | 9 Comments | Tags: , ,

Comments

  1. Hi,I am a soccer lover? Im from Addis Ababa Ethiopia I am writing this comment because I need a soccer scolarship.Im a medium range family type.I have anout standing soocer skill since our country is still developing country there is no equipped place to train or to play if it is approprite I would like it if the authorized person can read it and you can contact me at my e-mail (abdu1seid@hotmail.com)or my phone number (+251911203449).Thank you for your concern

  2. J.Howard Mattaldi says:

    Hello to all soccer lovers?
    Iam from Monrovia,liberia west africa,iam a local soccer player wo is currently looking for n outside sponsorship to gav me a soccer scholarship. i need a helping hand to get me from here,anyone coming in to help me will benefit the most of my worth in God name, Hope to hear from any one who want to take me as their player n child,u can talk to me on my personal contact [mmattaldi@yahoo.com] Call me on my phone# +231880570989, my Full Name is J.Howard Mattaldi.

  3. Coach Fred says:

    Excellent article Dr. LeBolt! Worth the money is all relative to the desires of the player… not the parents. You can’t buy ‘heart’ or love of the game/activity.

    Spend the money if your kids are truly happy and want to keep playingand participating. Talk with them more rather than at them after both the food and the bad days … they will let you know.

    It is not always about playing time or wins and losses.

  4. V.Taylor says:

    Dr.Wendy, I love your articles on Soccerwire, as we are living them in our involvement with our grandchildren’s athletic endeavors! Our 12 year old grandson in quite a Lacrosse player and has aspirations to play in college, not for a scholarship but just to play at that level of competition. If this love of the sport motivates him to study harder and prepare for the PSAT, I think it’s worth the financial investment. Ginger
    P.S.Division 2 or 3 would be fine.

  5. Mike says:

    Awwwhh, hello people. We don’t wake up one day and say to our children we want you to play soccer so you can attain a scholarship to attend university. Of course its a natural progression if your child has the talent and has demonstrated an ability to distant himself from his piers that he or she will indeed become a player worthy of a scholarship, however it doesn’t work the other way around where we train religiously to improve our technical side hoping to garner interest from college coaches. Let me be quite frank, with the all the talk of development you most first be naturally proficient in the sport to begin with. And that includes the essentials that parents do not see. Does the player possess all the ingredients to be that significant player that separates him/her from the rest.
    That my friends determines if the player will be awarded a significant amount of money to go to school. Div I schools only have 9.9 Soccer scholarships to spread out over the entire team. 9.9 and that’s not every year either. If four seniors are on full rides then when they graduate the coach will now have 4 scholarships for entering freshman at his disposal. However College coaches split up the four so as to attract more talent to bolster the team and offer 50% or 75% knowing that the rest will be covered through other academic scholarships. This brings us back to, well who gets a full ride? U-17 Residency players and top notch players from Academy teams are the ones garnering the full ride scholarships. The elite of the elite. These are the boys/girls who at a young age show the natural abilities to become good. And as the years progress they continue to develop naturally WITHOUT the extra training sessions many of these parents are paying for. So ask yourself one simple question as I tell many the same, is your son/daughter a natural soccer player or do they just play soccer… There is a big difference. Spending vast amounts of money now will not necessarily get the results you want in the future but I guess nothing ventured nothing gained.

  6. Mr. T.J. says:

    Soccer parents,
    Dr. Lebolt shares the one year cost of a high level soccer player. Her assessment may be a little on the frugal side. Some do call us crazy but the costs may be considerably higher when you consider some of the unbudgeted intangibles for example; the cost of eating out, fuel costs and time taken off of work to get the player to the various soccer events. I have six children. I speak from experience. Five of my kids play soccer and four competitively. I have sent two to Europe and a third will have the opportunity soon.
    My oldest is now in college and that is our primary goal for all of our children. Many from our soccer club receive scholarship offers, and dreams of scholarships abound but we do not count on them. Instead we recognize that the (soccer) investment is in their character and development. One thing that world class athletes all have in common is the ability to succeed through all circumstances. This is what we wish our children to gain, the knowledge, ability, and understanding that hard work will pay off. That is not the extra effort today that pays off, it is the extra effort day-in and day-out over time that will pay dividends. The compounding of these dividends will provide the success in the future.
    I am not wealthy by any means but I will do whatever it takes to provide this understanding to my children. I am further comforted by the fact that this high level competitive environment keeps our kids busy nearly every night of the week. They have to learn to manage their time, keep track of their nutrition, assignments and grades. If they are busy with healthy happy pursuits then they are not getting into trouble, drinking, smoking, drugs or worse. They also associate with kids and adults that are doing the same. Positive healthy people surround them. What more can you ask for and how much is it worth to you?
    Parents, if your club (or coach) does not provide additional opportunities for your player to improve at a reasonable cost then you club is a for profit club. We belong to a non-profit club. We benefit from top level coaches and staff. Further our club has all kinds of optional training sessions like: speed and agility training, goalie training, finishing training, etc. and at a very reasonable rate.
    If your only focus is a scholarship then you have much work to do. The college scouts are at all the major tournaments. It takes emails, letters, phone calls and campus visits. In short, a lot of work but it can be done. While I hope we have that opportunity, we know that trouble may expose itself in the thought that our player may decide they do not want soccer to be their full time job while in college. Perhaps they choose a college based on their academic interest. Perhaps they have learned that college is like soccer practice and builds towards the final game? One can only hope.
    I hope that Dr. will have some comments on this note and my final thought regarding college scholarships. Good Luck!

  7. Larry Dolph says:

    Dr. Lebolt, as a professional goalkeeper trainer running my own business to train many children, I can appreciate the insight. However, it should be noted, this is not a phenomenon limited to competitive team sports.

    I have two children of my own, 15 and 11. The older is a boy playing higher level soccer in the VCCL. A good solid player, we’ll wait to see on the scholorship…the younger daughter is not a soccer player. However, she’s chosen dance as her sport of choice.

    She dances with a local studio, but with the “company” which is the equivalent of travel soccer. You have outlined the expense of securing a soccer scholarship. Dance, in comparison to soccer, well, there is no comparison. Dance is almost 100% more expensive. I laugh at soccer parents who complain of paying the team fees of 6 or 7 hundred dollars.

    My point is this….we as a family have no expectation of a college scholarship for my dancer daughter, but continue to pour the equivalent of a years of college tuition into dance fees. So, how much is too much?…only a family can decide.

    • Charles says:

      Thanks for your comment! I cannot resist interjecting with an observation: many think the missing link in American soccer is the relative lack of “unstructured play” – our kids don’t spend enough time on their own playing pick-up, small-side games, juggling etc. without adult involvement, in the way that is commonplace in seasoned “soccer cultures” like Brazil, Mexico etc. etc. Clearly this is an American problem more than just an American soccer problem. And it probably has long-term social effects as well.

    • Wendy LeBolt says:

      Thanks for pointing this out, Larry. In writing for the Soccer Wire I try to stick to soccer but you are more than correct. I used to marvel at the young girls walking backstage into their dance recitals with their Mom’s trailing behind pushing clothes racks of 9-14 sequined dance outfits. One for each number they were in.

      The reminder for us all is “count the cost.” If it’s “worth it” then it’s worth it. I hope you’ll read Part 2 of this article in which I share a bit of our own family’s reflections on this process.

      And an aside – these dancers participating in numerous hours (sometimes 3-5 hours per day) of repetitive routines are subject to “overtraining injury” as well.

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