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Commentary Oct 18, 2012

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.

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