Practices nearly every day, early-morning conditioning, games, scrimmages, summer camps and other team requirements dominate the lives of high school athletes and their parents. If you're one of those families, you may have accepted the fact that every school break during your child's high school career will be spent practicing instead of vacationing. High school sports are no longer just a fun way to play a sport that kids enjoy. Instead, it's big business and you probably know that first hand by the fees that you pay. For some, the 4am practices are there for one reason: to receive an NCAA scholarship. But is it worth the investment of time and money? (For a related reading, see The March Madness Approach To Investing.)
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The Cost of Sports
It isn't uncommon for school districts to charge $300 or more per sport for one child to play. Add in the costs that a parent has to pay for equipment and the costs rises drastically. If you have a child who plays middle and high school basketball, statistics show that you will spend an average of $5,000 over six years, and if the sport of choice is soccer, you spend a much higher $8,000, over two years.

For a child who is a member of a swim team outside of a school, the costs can be $4,000 per year or more (which often doesn't include equipment). The expenses paid for participation in athletics vary widely, but one fact is clear: it costs a lot of money. (For more, see The Most Economical Sports For Kids.)

The NCAA Payoff
So can a family expect to recoup those costs in the form of an NCAA scholarship? Probably not, according to Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of membership services. In an article from the Houston Chronicle, Lennon says that parents and students should participate in sports for the enjoyment of the game rather than hoping to cash in.

There are approximately 140,000 NCAA athletes, but only a small percentage of those athletes receive scholarship money. If you want to have the best chances of receiving an NCAA scholarship you should be a girl playing high school golf. Of all of the high school girls playing golf, the NCAA reports that 1.6% of those will earn at least a partial scholarship. The catch? You will spend an average of $11,000 per year over your child's middle school and high school golf experience, according to that same Chronicle report.

Increasing Your Odds
If you play football, you have a 1.4% chance of getting a college scholarship, and it's by far the best value. Parents will only spend an average of $300 in off season expenses along with pay-to-play fees. If you want to play the sport with the highest average scholarship amount, play ice hockey. The average amount that an NCAA college ice hockey player receives is $21,755 according to the New York Times.

Even if your child is one of those student athletes who receives a scholarship, the value of that scholarship won't come close to paying all of their college expenses. Including room and board, tuition for NCAA schools is between $20,000 and $50,000 per year while the average scholarship for athletes not involved in the high profile sports of basketball and football is only $8,707. If you average all sports, including the high profile ones, the amount only rises to $10,409. With no NCAA scholarship being a guaranteed four-year award, collegiate athletes must keep the same commitment to continue to receive the scholarship.

Finally, if you're wondering if gender plays a role, 57% of all scholarship money goes to male athletes, but in 11 out of 14 sports both men and women play, women received more scholarships, again, according to the New York Times.

The Bottom Line
With only a tiny fraction of the millions of high school athletes getting NCAA scholarships, playing for the sole purpose of gaining scholarship dollars is not a fruitful endeavor. If a scholarship is your goal, go for academics. Out of all students, about 9.6% receive academic scholarships, with the average scholarship amount totaling $2,184. You still won't pay the full cost of tuition, but you have a much higher chance of receiving an award. (To learn more, see 7 Ways To Fund Your Child's Athletic Pursuits.)

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