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Ask Dave

What's the Endgame?

Shelly says her daughter is a competitive gymnast. She spends $640 for both of her daughters to train. As it gets more expensive, should they continue paying for this?

QUESTION: Shelly in Los Angeles says her daughter is a competitive gymnast. She spends $640 for both of her daughters to train. Shelly and her husband bring home $6,000 a month. As it gets more expensive, should they continue paying for this?

ANSWER: One in a million becomes Mary Lou Retton, right? And $7,200 a year will pay for your kids’ college—times 20. If you’re doing this for college, you’re not getting a bang for your buck. If that’s your only reason for doing this, you’re not getting enough economic value for what you’re putting out, and you have a 7 year old training 22 hours a week. What is the purpose?

I’m perfectly okay with you guys making whatever choices you want to make. The only thing I’m trying to understand and really challenge you on, in a sense, is what your goal for this is, and is the goal endgame worth the cost—financially and strain on the kid. A 7-year-old kid training 22 hours a week sounds like a lot to me. I’m okay with that, and you said she’s got a God-given talent. Sure she does, but what is it we’re trying to accomplish with this extreme training and this extreme expense? Are we accomplishing something that’s worth the cost with this extreme stuff? That’s all I’m asking.

You’re paying about 10 times too much for college if you’re paying for it now. Think about it. She’s 7. If you do this for 10 years, by the time you get up into the high school years, you’re going to have well in excess of $100,000 to $150,000 invested into gymnastics. You could’ve gone to college cheaper. That’s my point.

If a kid has some athletic talent, they ought to be engaged in some kind of athletics. My kids all were. My son played ice hockey from the time he was little all the way up. He did not play 22 hours a week when he was 7, and I never once invested $7,000 a year into it. But he got all of those side benefits you were talking about because he played every year, had fun, and hung out with good kids. I coached, so we got to hang out together. We’ve got some great memories. He was not going into the NHL. We knew that fairly early. We were playing for those other benefits—the discipline, fellowship, time with me, activity, character building of winning and losing, putting out effort when you’re too tired to put out effort. All of those things are good. But I think you can get those at a lower level.

To what endgame? Where are we going with this? You’re welcome to do what you want. You are spending 10% of your household income on a 7 year old in gymnastics. That’s a little wacky. It’s overdone. Twenty-two hours a week, and that’s overdone. Again, if you want to do that—and there’s lots of parents who do—you’re certainly welcome to, and I’m not going to make fun of you or be mad at you or anything. That’s not the point. My only point with my discussion with you is to make you stop and think about why.

You can tell your daughter whatever you want. She’s 7. Abstract thought’s not even in her ability. All she can do is concrete thought. She’s just engaged in everybody in that community. You can do whatever you want to do. But the idea that the child is going to be psychologically damaged or held back because she didn’t do competitive gymnastics versus gymnastics—oh, come on.

You’re okay to do this. You just ought to have a real reason to put out this kind of money and this kind of effort, and I haven’t heard one yet. The economic reason isn’t there because there’s not going to be a payoff on this. I don’t get that you’re getting so much more with the travel team than the house league, so to speak. How has their life changed? Is she going to be 14 and burned out and not want to ever do another flip again in her life? I don’t know, but these things have happened before. I’m just challenging the why. You and your husband need to really sit down and think about why. Really get your hands around that, because you’re spending an inordinate amount of money and an inordinate amount of effort on a 7 year old’s activity.