Less than 3% of high school basketball players go on to play at a four-year college — less than 1% play division one. The numbers are slightly better for other sports. With odds like that it is shocking to some people that the business of youth sports is now a 12 billion dollar industry. Critics say that the cost of participating in traveling teams is prohibitive for many families, but kids who do not participate have almost no chance to continue their athletic careers beyond high school. As a parent, I had a chance to hear firsthand AAU programs administrators, private trainers, and event promoters dangle the prospect of a college offer to prospective athletes and their families. It is a shady business, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Making it to the college level should not be the only goal.
In my view, the apparatus of travel sports grew as the athletic budgets at public schools have been systematically cut to almost zero. It’s crazy to me that some of the same people who are always advocating for tax cuts, complain that AAU programs have all but replaced school sports — but you can’t have it both ways. I enjoyed my time as an AAU parent, and Aaron had a great experience. Without AAU there is no way Aaron would be playing basketball at Colorado College next year, but it didn’t come without expense and sacrifice. Aaron, for all intents and purposes, gave up most of his summers and all of his weekends during AAU season — and that doesn’t include the endless hours of practice and work between sessions and games. If he didn’t love the experience, it would not have been worth it. Bottom line is if your child finds a good AAU program and thoroughly enjoys the experience, then it’s all worth it — and making it to the college level is just icing on the cake. Life is too short to make the joy of playing sports too much like a job. Sports are supposed to be fun.