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Inside the high-stakes game of youth club sports and the chances of a big payoff | FOX43 Reveals

It's easy to score the benefits of youth club sports. The multibillion-dollar industry has transformed what it means to be a student athlete.

MANHEIM, Pa. — It’s a warm Thursday night in Penn Township, Lancaster County, and the soccer fields at Classics Park are peppered with young, hard-working athletes. A team of six-year-olds practice their dribbling drills on the lower field. 

Coach Nick Hostetter reminds the young players to stop the soccer ball with their feet and not their hands. The kids are having a blast.

“I work with anything from my son’s team actually which is youth six to 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds,” said Coach Hostetter, Field Director for the Pennsylvania Classics.

Pennsylvania Classics offers several different tiers of travel soccer for student athletes who want to play on a club team year-round. Each field at Classics Park unlocks new levels of talent.

“I think every player has different goals,” said Coach Hostetter. “It might be to play on their school soccer team. It might be just to make their school soccer team. It might be to play professional.”

It is easy to score the benefits of youth club sports. The multibillion-dollar industry has transformed what it means to be a student athlete. Players hone their skills year-round and travel the country to compete against some of the best teams in the United States.

“That is a huge piece of it. Get your kids training with the best players in the area. Bring in the best competition so that we can get a measuring stick as to how we’re stacking up and have the best coaches,” said Doug Harris, President of the Pennsylvania Classics.

The price to play in youth club sports is steep. FOX43 Reveals that parents spend anywhere from $500 a month to more than $12,000 a year on club teams, according to a recent TD Ameritrade survey conducted by the Harris Poll.

Many families are banking on a rare shot at a college scholarship as payoff for their investment in their child’s sports. The average athletic scholarship for all sports in Division I is approximately $14,270 a year for men and $15,162 for women. In Division II sports, the numbers drop to $5,548 for men and $6,814 for women.

“I would say a large majority of the college student athletes now at all three levels of the NCAA come out of the club scene,” said Mike Mattia, Executive Director of Athletics at Gettysburg College.

Youth club sports have changed the way colleges recruit. Coaches are scouting athletes at club tournaments versus high school games. Parents are spending thousands of dollars for their kids to play on club teams to get seen by college coaches across the country.

“Now, [coaches] spend their time traveling all over the country, going and watching these club teams play each other and they have more of a relationship with the club coaches than they do with the high school coaches,” added Mattia.

There are concerns with competing year-round in a single sport. Repetitive strain is creating more overuse injuries in youth athletes, impacting their ability to play in college even when they do secure an athletics scholarship.

“Our athletic trainers are definitely seeing these overuse injuries,” Mattia said. “Things that you would typically see in a 40-year-old for playing their sport for a number of years, we’re now seeing in 18 to 20-year-olds.”

Web extra: watch video below for tips on how to get a college coach to notice you

Club team coaches are trying to manage overuse injuries by giving student athletes longer breaks during the summer and winter months. However, parents tend to drive the business model for youth club sports and often put their child on another team that has shorter breaks. 

Yet players are up against tough odds. FOX43 Reveals that only 2% of high school athletes are awarded some form of athletics scholarship to compete in college and about 2.5% of high school athletes go on to play at the top level of college sports—the NCAA’s Division I.

FOX43 Reveals reviewed data from the NCAA to estimate the high school-to-NCAA probability. We found that 7.5% of athletes who play baseball in high school and 5.6% of athletes who play softball in high school compete in college. 

For men’s soccer, 5.6% play in college and 7.2% of women soccer athletes compete in college. Only 3.5% of high school boys basketball participants and 4.1% of high school girls basketball participants make it on a college team.

Fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. There are nearly half a million NCAA student-athletes and most of them will depend on academics to prepare them for life after college.

Despite those odds, families say they cannot put a price on the teamwork, discipline and perseverance that student athletes learn while playing for club teams.

“In my mind, the life lessons that are learned in sports are remarkable and these are the things that 90 percent of our kids will carry throughout,” said Harris.

FOX43 Reveals issues that affect you and your family to keep you informed. If you have a topic you want us to investigate, send us an email to FOX43reveals@FOX43.com.

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