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Scott Brooks doesn’t have to look far to see the big business of youth sports.
He sees it at Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, basketball tournaments around the Midwest. Your entry fee is only a small piece of the pie. You can pay for player evaluations, video of games, sneakers and much more.
He sees it at Father Tolton Catholic High School basketball games, when people will line up for more than an hour to watch Michael Porter Jr., one of the most talented high school basketball players in the country.
Most of all, he sees it in his own expenses. Last year, he spent about $8,000 for his two sons to play AAU basketball. This includes sport-specific training, strength and conditioning, nutritional supplements, equipment, participation fees, travel, food and lodging.
“The thing is, if I had more money, I would probably be spending a lot more,” Brooks says.
In April 2015, Dr. Lisa Delpy Neirotti from George Washington University shared findings with the National Association of Sports Commissions, which includes the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimating that $8.96 billion was spent on sports tourism nationally in 2014.
“No matter what the economy is doing, parents are going to pay for their kids to play sports,” says Megan McConachie, the marketing and communications manager for the CVB.
It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “recession proof” attached to youth sports. This does not surprise Brooks. As an associate professor of sociology at MU, he gets to combine his love of sports, particularly basketball, with his interest in sociology, much like his mentor, Harry Edwards, from the University of California–Berkeley.
“Every parent sees their job to provide their kid with opportunities to get ahead,” Brooks says. “You want the best for your kids, and when you have affluence like we have, it’s not surprising to see parents spend that kind of money.”
Many parents and coaches have bought into notion that if you invest into a child now, it will pay off with a scholarship. But what if things don’t go as planned? What if you invest in your child’s hoop dream and they don’t want to play anymore?
Brooks would love for children to have a broader perspective, to dream about more opportunities than just being an athlete. Unfortunately, the draw of sports is strong.
“We’re in denial about how core sport is to our identity,” Brooks says. “It is no longer extracurricular.”