Occasionally, a parent or grandparent will come ask me for my thoughts on the prospects for a family member in their sport.

As you know, I steer wide of this iceberg, but I never leave the question unanswered.

The stock answer is “they just need to keep playing hard and doing what the coaches ask and see what happens.”

It might come across as a cop out.

You might think it’s lame.

It really is just a small glint of wisdom from an admittedly unlikely source.

Here’s why I answer that way.

Kids and their parents spend a lot of time monitoring what I call the “Local Sports Exchange”.

They are contemplating whether the returns they are getting on their investment into their childrens’ sports teams are working for them.

They are weighing whether or not the thousands of dollars they spend every spring and summer are going to come back to them. Is that summer league the right league to be in? Do we need to transfer him/her to another school (stop it, it does too happen)?

That return process begins small, with modest gains that are rolled back into the portfolio to help it grow. In the “Sports Exchange” that means playing little league baseball or softball (as an example) in your hometown until they noticed enough to get recruited by a travel league team.

Then, “investors” watch every game the next season, and each game is equivalent to an earnings report. Did profits grow, pull back or stay somewhere near ‘unchanged’ territory?

It leads to a major decision: buy, hold or sell.

If the futures market seems positive, you ‘buy more’ and consider moving up.

If it seems unclear, you hold and look for more information before you decide.

If the future looks less favorable, you sell off your holdings and either buy a different stock or get out of the market all together.

You scoff, but my word picture is spot on.

Parents look at their kids’ roles and participation in sports and try to calculate whether this coach has their kids’ best interest in mind (like a mutual fund manager). If they don’t think they do, they move them to a different fund—or different school.  

And let’s be real, the financial cost of raising an athlete can be staggering.

We see more and more athletes coming from affluent neighborhoods and less and less from outside suburbia. Kids from higher household income demographics can afford trips with travel teams, equipment, shoes and all that goes with it. Those families have more disposable income to invest.

When those parents invest their hard-earned dollars into travel teams, they are doing so hoping to see returns on that investment.

That makes sense, right?

The problem is that sports, like the stock market, doesn’t often follow form. There is a standard disclaimer in financial planning that says, “past performance is no guarantee for future results”.

That’s true in sports too.

What’s my point?

Too many kids and their families ‘sell’ when they shouldn’t.

I tell the story of a local sports team that went into their offseason with the prospect of 7 players competing for 2 starting spots and 2 backup positions in the next season.

There was a lot of discussion on what the coaching staff would do with such a glut of good (but not great) players at the same position. Finding some of them new positions seemed unlikely because their skill sets were eerily similar.

When it came time for their preseason workouts to begin, only 2 of those 7 players were there.

Where were the others?

They and their parents decided that staying on the team wouldn’t be worth it because they would either get cut or sit the bench, and they “sold their stock” in that team.

In other words, they cut themselves.

The team went from an overabundance of talent at one position to being forced to move players from other positions to fill the gaps.

When that happens, it really is a shame. It often happens after the student’s sophomore year. Many kids’ bodies change, grow and develop in the year they turn 16 and their skills grow and develop with it.

When kids stop playing because they don’t see a future in it, that breaks my heart.

My message to you, parents and players is “keep playing hard and doing what the coaches ask and see what happens.”

Doing that lays the groundwork for kids to learn perseverance, whether they make this team or not. They will be more likely to stay with their marriages when times get hard. They will be more likely to deal with tough times at work.

Those are life lessons that all families should be investing heavily in…because the payoff for that is life changing.