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Making Cents in Youth Sports

By Cristina Walters, She's a Gamer, 04/11/18, 3:45PM CDT


The 'push and pull' in a multibillion dollar race to compete

Have the days of placing youths in a team sport to exercise something other than their fingertips and develop life lessons given way to skills assessments and travel leagues?

Having never been a mom myself (other than to the four-legged family member), I’ve had a birds-eye view of parents and their kids in what I term the “spin cycle” of sports competition at all levels.

Whether the parents of a World Cup and Olympic women’s soccer champion or the single mother of a Super Bowl winning Eagle now flying high, the disparity between a busy mom dropping her daughter at volleyball practice and the helicopter dad anxiously awaiting the starting lineup for his son’s Little League game can be as deep as Nick Saban’s analysis of Alabama’s 2018 recruiting class.

My own dad invested countless weekends watching me skate at the neighborhood ice rink, then it was hours at the batting cages and baseball fields before entering high school.

One of few freshmen to start for my varsity high school team in Southern California, a budding softball career gave way to the many other options for a freshman girl after just one year, crushing my dad’s hopes of sending his daughter on an athletic scholarship to the nation’s leader in NCAA softball championships, UCLA.

Fast forward 38 years, as I share hard facts and firm opinions of a growing sports industry and its significant impact at the youth level.

Have the days of placing youths in a team sport to exercise something other than their fingertips and develop life lessons given way to skills assessments and travel leagues?

Based on the $15 billion valuation of today’s youth sports leagues, the troubling answer is yes. Troubling because a culture that is increasingly focused on mining future All Stars to feed an insatiable market of promoters, fan bases and team organizers precludes millions of youths with standard athletic abilities, yet with hearts and minds that compete at the highest levels.

estimates reveal 70 Percent of kids quit playing sports by the age of 13

What’s driving this disheartening statistic? I believe it’s the push and pull of many parents, coaches, universities and others whose objectives don’t always align with an athlete’s.

The strong push of parents as fans, volunteers and occasional coaches for their child to excel athletically is being pulled at the opposite end by a lucrative industry of private instructors and club teams to identify and develop these kids into stars at many of the nation’s most elite high schools, before contributing to the multibillion dollar college athletics business.

Of course, as an avid fan of all things UCLA and the Pittsburgh Steelers, I appreciate top level competition and the sacrifices made to contend at the most elite levels. However, am I willing to accept a student-athlete’s poor character and suspect behavior to win at all costs?

Absolutely not, but that will be revealed in a future article. Think LaVar Ball & Sons.

Certainly, the top line of the chosen youth and those agreeable to a prospective life of a mega sports star are in the super minority. Yet for the vast majority of kids on fields and courts across this country, is an honest and dedicated will to compete, while having fun, reward enough? 

At What Cost for Youth Sports? A Numbers Game


Division 1


Men’s Basketball



Men’s Football






Just who is benefiting most from the progression of developing a young athlete into an unlikely college and even less likely professional star? I look to the elite leagues, equipment manufacturers, trainers and others who capitalize on the dreams of parents living vicariously or placing stock in their child versus Wall Street, and who (hopefully) prepare a willing youth for the next level of competition. No guarantees. No problem for this savvy group of specialists that see the business side of youth sports and its high stakes, high reward model.

Cristina Walters is the CEO of She’s A Gamer and the host of a sports talk radio show in Southern California. Visit to sign-up for weekly e-news.

She’s a Gamer helps women raise their games through sports education, empowerment and engagement. We’re bringing women off the sidelines with a playbook that features real-time sports news, sports 101 guides, cause-related wins, player safety, fan traditions and more. No “pink it or shrink it,” but timely information to enjoy and build stronger relationships with peers, partners and players in the family.

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