Playing to Win, a short Michael Lewis book that is free to listen to for Audible subscribers, is a fascinating look into a strange corner of the U.S. economy: the $70 billion/year travel sports industry.
The primary motivation for kids’ travel sports is the parental desire for their children to get into elite colleges, which may reserve 25-33 percent of their spots for recruited athletes. (I.e., white privilege permeates America, but it is available only to whites with degrees from elite universities). The statistics that we see for selective university admissions lump together athletes and non-athletes. The chance of a white or Asian child getting into without an athletic coach’s recommendation is actually worse than the statistics suggest.
What does it cost? Lewis describes the typical athlete starting at age 11 or 12 and the parents spend $20,000 to $30,000 per year (plus a huge amount of time driving, flying, and spectating). In other words, at least $150,000 of which a small percentage might be recouped via an athletic scholarship. These costs mean that only one sport remains open to the half of Americans whose families are below the median income: football. This is because football is the only sport in which the good teams remain associated with public high schools. Travel sports is how upper-middle-class and rich whites/Asians compensate in a world where college admissions starts with a sort-by-skin-color and victimhood status.
Can individuals tap into this river of cash? Oh yes! The best is volleyball. Lewis describes a volleyball coach who organized a weekend tournament and made $1 million renting a convention center and filling it with nets. Sports for “girls” (however that term might be defined) are better than sports for athletes who identify as “boys” because the parents of the “girls” are less likely to allow the “girls” to travel unsupervised. At least one parent comes along with the athlete and books an additional hotel room then buys a ticket to the event. From the leagueapps.com web site, a presumably typical document requiring participants to book their hotels through the event organizer:
(LeagueApps says that they have processed more than $1 billion in payments.)
Lewis’s own daughter gets into the liberal arts college of her choice after a softball coach watches her play. What is a stressful admissions process for her classmates is a brief conversation with the coach in the spring of her junior year of high school.