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College Recruiting for the Elite Athlete

2. Money Matters

When my son Dan was playing tennis at a national level during high school, we tried to limit his annual budget to $15,000 - already a good chunk of a single working parent's take-home income. Yet compared with other elite athletes' expenditures, our budget seems laughable.

Some examples:

  • Tennis. According to Tim Donovan of Donovan Tennis Strategies, a college recruitment consulting service, most tennis families spend upwards of $25,000 a year for their son or daughter to compete at a national level. A recent article in The New York Times on rising tennis star, Donald Young, doubled that figure for athletes competing internationally.

  • Skiing. Skiers can easily spend $40,000 per year according to a representative of the U.S. Ski Association.

  • Golf. The United States Golf Association (USGA) figures it cost about $20,000 a year for young golfers to compete, but this figure does not include the costs of a parent or coach traveling with the child to tournaments, which can add $15,000 to the tab.

  • Sports Academies: Sports academies, which provide one-stop-shopping for elite athletes by bundling school, coaching, and competition into a single fee, begin at $36,000 per year and rise to at least $50,000 when travel to national competitions is included.

Between a rock and a hard place

If, as a parent, you try saying "no" to any of this, you face the domino effect of outcome sports parenting: if Jennifer doesn't play the qualifying competition, she can't be eligible for the regional competition, where she needs to place in order to gain a berth in the national competition, where college coaches circle like hawks over the choicest recruits.

The competition, meanwhile, have brought in a top-ranked coach along with perhaps a sports psychologist and personal trainer, so if the lower-level events are to have the desired outcome, you had better get people of similar caliber on board before your outlay proves fruitless.

Scholarships

There is help out there, certainly. The American Junior Golf Association dispenses about $230,000 in need-based aid to around 60 young golfers, about $4,000 each. Other national associations have similar scholarship programs; my son, Dan, for instance, received a full scholarship to a tennis camp at Harvard, though we needed to find a place for him to stay. A former director of a national sports academy told me recently that he often found $1,000 somewhere in the school's funds to help a student whose parents could not afford a particularly important competition.

But the big money, in both association and commercial sponsorship, goes to athletes who have already demonstrated potential, which means their families have already devoted significant resources to the elite sport in question.

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