When your child makes the team, you're thrilled. You write the check, you buy the equipment -- and then the true cost kicks in: time. As your children get older and the sports become more competitive, the time commitment you and your entire family will make goes up. Often, way up. So what's the true time cost of being an all-out "soccer mom" -- or any other sports parent, for that matter.
Here are some rough calculations quantifying the overall time commitment for having your kids involved with specific sports on an annual basis based on real-life experiences. We've also calculated the value of that time, using the median hourly rate for all occupations -- $16.27 -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and assuming the child participates in the sport for 10 years (ages 8-17). The numbers are estimates and parents of athletes participating in the same activities at different ages and levels may spend far more or less time. It's also not to be implied that the median wage is what the parents in this piece do or would make.
To be clear, we're not talking about the extremes -- what it takes to raise an Olympian or a professional athlete. We're considering the level of involvement in sports that makes you good enough to make the high school team and maybe play a club sport in college. For anything beyond that, the numbers get drastically higher. And if you're a coach or assistant coach, you know firsthand to round these numbers up.
Drake, 10, has been chasing and stopping hockey pucks since he was about 5 . He hit the rink at a young age, and has been playing goalie since age 7, much to the delight of his high-energy parents Greg and Elyzabeth Voell, who own their own business. The closest rink to their home is about 30 minutes away door-to-door without traffic. Drake is now playing on a AAA level travel team, which practices at a rink even further away.
Drake's general team practice routine calls for three 2-hour sessions per week. Drake also has private training with his goalie coach early mornings before school once a week, then again mid-week on synthetic ice at his coach's facility. Games are held each weekend in nearby states, but the team often travels to tournaments across the country and in Canada. Each season, the time commitment becomes more demanding as the travel increases. "We have become a through-and-through hockey family," says Drake's mom.
Estimated annual time commitment: 1,000 hours
Estimated value of total time: $162,700
Lance, 11 and the middle child of three, can do back flips like you've never seen. He has been doing gymnastics since third grade. His parents, athletes themselves, support their son's commitment to the sport -- and what a commitment it is. Lance hits the gym for nine hours a week -- recently scaled back from 12 hours -- year-round. The gym is approximately 30 minutes from their home and competitions tend to involve overnights. His mother, Marta Czarnecki, generally watches the practices or runs errands, among them bringing her other two kids to their respective practices. The Czarneckis are realistic about what their investment in their son's sport may yield, noting that fewer than ten guys make the Olympic gymnastic team every four years. Moreover, fewer than 20 colleges maintain men's gymnastic teams, and even fewer provide scholarships. His coach also warns a lot of boys drop out when they hit puberty and bodies and interests change. In the meantime, his mom says, "We figure that gymnastics is keeping him healthy and active and building his confidence."
Estimated annual time commitment: 820 hours
Estimated value of total time: $133,414
My nephew Zach, 11, is fast on his feet and like many American children, his first foray into team sports was soccer. He's now on a "travel' team, and they call it that for a reason.
Zach is the eldest of four boys in an always-on-the-go family. His mother Michelle Howard's calendar looks like an air traffic control dashboard. All of the boys participate in one or two sports per season. Zach's soccer schedule in both the spring and fall involves two practices per week, with two games on weekends. As is often the case, he competes in the town's recreational league as well as on a more elite "travel" team. His parents don't want him to have to choose between soccer and lacrosse, so he plays both. It's a scheduling double-whammy.
Michelle runs a tight, but loving, ship, and stays in constant touch with her husband regarding logistics. "I was calling him a lot and we started to get our wires crossed," she admits. "The shared calendar on my iPad is command central. Now, no one makes a move or commits to anything without checking that first." Zach's grandparents live nearby and also pitch in when they can. Their take: "They say 'it takes a village' for a reason."
Estimated annual time commitment: 320 hours
Estimated value of total time: $52,064
Annabel, 11, started dancing when she was 7 with ballet class once a week. With each new level and year, another day of classes is added -- each class is 1.5 hours. She just finished her pre-pointe year -- three ballet classes a week totaling five hours and an hour of modern dance class. Auditions for the annual Nutcracker are in August, rehearsals start in September and add about two hours to her regular schedule until November. Then it picks up until showtime. During peak rehearsal season, she puts in about ten hours a week.
Her mother, Suzanne Webster, typically picks Annabel up from school. Annabel has a snack and changes for ballet in the car, and gets some homework done at the studio if she has time. "She really amazes me," says Suzanne. "She knows how to plan ahead on homework and figures out what needs to get done right away and what can wait a bit according to her ballet schedule."
It does take a toll though and Suzanne admits she's -- understandably -- a bit relieved her two other children are not so deeply involved in activities. "I always thought the time commitment was insane until I talked to moms of swimmers," she added.
Estimated annual time commitment: 490 hours
Estimated value of total time: $79,723
Jaxon, 11, has been playing football for several years. His family recently relocated to an up-and-coming rural area that doesn't yet have its own league, so he plays in a more populated nearby town, a full 40 minutes from home. Jaxon is one of three children. His mother Jennifer is a photographer who juggles photo shoots and parenting 24/7. Jaxon's team practices for two hours five times we week from late summer through November. Games are every Saturday, and there are pregame duties as well. Jennifer says it's worthwhile to keep him involved with team sports, but knows the time commitment will probably increase in the coming years, "We see the high school boys practicing almost all summer."
Estimated annual time commitment: 420
Estimated total value of time: $68,334
My son Sam, 11, religiously follows the Yankees and is begging to play "travel" baseball in addition to being in the county's recreational leagues. Experienced baseball moms tell me to brace myself for "double headers." I'm also reminded of a warning from a friend with a young adult child who spent his fair share of time in the bleachers: "Never let your kids play a sport without a clock." Baseball timing can be tricky -- you never know just how many pitches will be thrown in any given inning, and then there are extra innings, rain delays, etc. Sam currently practices two times a week for 90 minutes. His weekly games are run about 2 and half hours. On the plus side, baseball fields are usually relatively close by. In our case, most games are only about 15 minutes away. Some fields have concession stands, which have become our default dinner short-cut.
Estimated annual time commitment: 260 hours
Estimated value of total time: $42,302.
Cortney, 13, is an accomplished rider. This fall, she and her horse will attend an elite private school, where, in her words, "You get to ride for PE." Her mother, Holly Cunningham, is ringside for ongoing riding lessons and daylong horse shows.
Horseback riding isn't just a sport, it's a lifestyle. Caring for the animals alone can be a tremendous time commitment. It's not unusual for Holly and Cortney to be up at 6 a.m. cleaning stalls before school at the stable owned by Cortney's grandparents where the horses board. They're lucky: It's just down the street, which takes a lot of driving out of the equation. But the Cunninghams estimate it takes two hours of barn work and feeding a day for four horses (45 minutes a day for Cortney's horse alone) and an extra 1.5 hours five days a week for exercising the horse and lessons.
Estimated annual time commitment: 750
Estimated value of total time: $122,025
More Time Cost Factors to Consider
Individual sports tend to be year-round: Some seasons never end, hence the high numbers above for individual endeavors. Time off can cause performance set-backs. Lance's parents shared that his gymnastic coach tells them if he takes one week off, it takes him two weeks to get back in shape.
Assume they'll make the playoffs: If your child plays a team sport, you can't assume your schedule will open up when the regular season ends. Play it safe when you're planning and assume they'll make the playoffs, which can extend the season by weeks. Plus, missing practices during playoff season really doesn't go over well with coaches.
Your "summer break" will be broken: Practices for fall high school team sports frequently begin the first week in August. So, summer break as you've traditionally known it with younger children gets abruptly cut almost in half.
Longer-term dividends: Playing team sports could, ultimately, make you a more resilient employee better able to handle constructive criticism, thanks to years of feedback from coaches (i.e.: being yelled at from the sidelines). The time management involved with individual sports may also pay dividends. Long-time media executive and cable pioneer Lou Borrelli, who swam competitively for 15 years and coached for five, summed it up this way, "It's a great sport that forces you to major in time management and multitasking, which will serve you well when it's time to hang up the Speedo."
Consider it priceless: As with many things involving children, I think you have to chalk up the time spent on affording your children the opportunity to participate in sports as invaluable. Some of my favorite times with my own kids happen in the car in between games and on the way to the ski mountain. It's where memories are made and teachable moments happen. Priceless.