The Call-In: Kids' Sports Kids' sports is now a $15 billion industry. Lulu Garcia-Navarro explores the pressure this puts on families with parent Amanda Nissim and former president of Washington Youth Soccer, Doug Andreassen.

The Call-In: Kids' Sports

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This is The Call-In.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: This week, we're talking about the business of sports, kids sports. It's now a $15 billion industry and growing, according to some estimates. Registration fees, specialized camps, equipment, travel - the money adds up. And some parents are willing to pay for it. But is it good for kids? We asked you to call in and share your thoughts.




UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We spend about $10,000 a year to support each kid.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Everybody has top-grade gear. There are uniforms. There are fees.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I probably should saved the money and just spent it on college tuition instead.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Do I expect that my son is going to be a professional athlete? No. But I'm hoping that these experiences give him a balanced approach to life.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Thanks so much. Bye, bye.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First up, a parent's perspective - Amanda Nissim called from Pensacola, Fla. Her 12-year-old son is really into playing sports and a lot of them.

AMANDA NISSIM: Are you ready for this? This is quite the list.


NISSIM: Currently, he is playing soccer, basketball and golf. In the winter, he'll do swim for his middle school team. And then in the spring, he does baseball. And then in summer, he does swim and golf. So we worked very hard to keep him seasonal. And that's a real challenge amongst itself because, especially in Florida where you have year-round weather, there is a real pressure to specialize. You get the pitch that if you don't specialize that your kid's going to fall behind. They won't make high school teams. And then they get all the way up into they won't get their college scholarships. They won't make it on major leagues. And we're like, whoa, we're just - want a child to play sports kind of like we did in the '70s growing up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say you're getting all this pressure, who are you getting it from? - from sort of team coaches or from your peers?

NISSIM: Well, that's an interesting and complicated question, and I'll tell you why. When they're young, very young - I mean, they start baseball around here in Pensacola at age 3.


NISSIM: It's called wee-ball. We did not do that. We were the parents that showed up - the first team that we were on is like, how long has your kid been playing? And we're like, well, he's just starting. And you could just see the look of, oh, great. We got one of those. And there seems to be a miss between parents and what's happening on the coaching level at the higher levels. High school and up are wanting well-rounded players. They're not wanting them ragged out and overspecialized, especially in baseball where it's just that one motion over and over and over again. But you see parents really hanging on to the hope, understandably, that their kid's going to be the next great ballplayer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you hope for your kid?

NISSIM: I want my kid to grow up. And if he wants to be an insurance adjuster, I want him to be the greatest insurance adjuster. And I want him to be able to go out and have a hobby that he loves to do on the weekends or with his family as he grows up. But as I say that, he's a 12-year-old kid with a dream. I don't want to crush him either.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that his dream?

NISSIM: Of course. He's 12 years old. He has these dreams. But we try to keep it realistic and tell him it's less than 1 percent of athletes are elite enough to make it at high levels.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Amanda Nissim talking to us from Pensacola, Fla. Now let's turn to somebody who's been watching youth sports from inside the industry. Doug Andreassen is the former president of Washington Youth Soccer. It's an organization that provides both recreational and elite soccer to kids in Washington state. He's seen a lot change over the 25 years he's been involved in the sport.

DOUG ANDREASSEN: It was all volunteers. We had volunteer referees, we had volunteer coaches. There was no fees to play the game really other than your equipment and your balls. And over the course of the 25 years, that certainly has changed dramatically to the model that it is today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Talk about some of those changes. I mean, now you have club teams.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have elite travel teams. I mean, what are those things?

ANDREASSEN: So most athletes started out playing recreational soccer. These are the young kids, usually ages 5 to about 10. What's happened in the last, certainly, five to seven years is that they develop select teams. And select teams are teams that do - like you say - do travel around, not only travel around the state but travel around your region - to your very highest level, which is what they call the premier level. And those kids travel from coast to coast, north and south, east and west, as well as internationally to play the game.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I imagine that having the sport become that expensive has kept some people out of the sport because they can't afford it.

ANDREASSEN: There are so many kids in our country - just for them to come and play in their neighborhood field anymore, again, they'll have to rent the field, pay the referees. Now, that doesn't include any fees that go towards their uniforms or for the balls for the equipment or for the goals themselves. But yeah, this part of the community gets priced out of the game.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why has this happened? What's push this in this direction?

ANDREASSEN: Yeah. It really probably started about 12 to 13 years ago when we started having coaches that were basically coming from abroad that were coming to America. And America was grasping the game of soccer at that point. As these coaches came to the United States from abroad, they found there was an opportunity to coach a team for a fee. Then the referee said, oh, well, we should be charging for our services as well. So then the referees came in and charged their fees. And then after that, the cities, the counties, the parks, the school boards said these fields can't be free anymore. We've got to charge for the field. So as you can see, it was kind of a trickle-down philosophy that happened. And pretty soon, those fees began to escalate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see happen in youth sports?

ANDREASSEN: Well, I think the biggest thing is do away with the pay-to-play model somehow. And maybe that's a subsidization from your pro sports, whether it be the NFL, NBA, Major League Soccer, so we can get all kids who play a sport. But really understand that it's important for the kids to have the time off as much as is for them to play - and also to encourage them to play multiple sports and do other things and take a break from the sport so when they do come back that they're revitalized themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Doug Andreassen's the former president of Washington Youth Soccer. Thank you so much.

ANDREASSEN: Thank you very much.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Next week on The Call-In - fall hunting season is underway. A recent Fish and Wildlife Service survey shows there's been a decline in hunters, especially younger ones. In a move to support hunting, the Trump administration is expanding hunter's access to public lands. Do you hunt? Do your kids hunt? Do you think hunters need to have more access to public lands or not? Call in at 202-216-9217 with your questions and experiences. Be sure to include your full name, your contact info and where you're from. And we may use it on the air. That number again, 202-216-9217.

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