Want to raise an Olympic athlete? It’ll cost you plenty

Despite NBC’s long-standing strategy of documenting the sad stories of Olympic athletes who have somehow pulled themselves up by their bootstraps from whatever life throws at them, more often than not we’re watching some pretty privileged athletes in action.

That doesn’t take away from their achievement, of course. But it does illustrate the reality of the Olympics: it takes money to even get a whiff of being an Olympic athlete.

CNBC today provides an example. Jennifer and Matt Freezer, of Colorado Springs, spend almost $60,000 a year on their athlete.

They started when Elise was 5 with skating lessons. That cost $20,000 a year.

She’s 11 now — still too young for the Olympics — and the pricetag for coaching lessons, registration fees, ice time and travel is an all-in bet that she’ll make it.

“We tried to cut back on lessons but she struggled,” Jennifer says, noting that the couple has downsized and doesn’t eat out.

“We make the sacrifices and we still wonder if we can continue on this track,” she said.

It’s the cost of keeping kids out of trouble.

“When you are involved in a sport, you focus on the health of your body,” she said. “You don’t have time to get involved in the wrong stuff.”

It’s not just Olympic hopefuls, CNBC says, suggesting that parents are spending too much money on their kids extracurricular activities.

“That’s the exact money that would have funded a family vacation or been put in a retirement fund,” said Susan Johnson, SunTrust’s chief marketing officer.

SunTrust’s report found that 20-percent of those surveyed spend more than $2,500 on youth extracurriculars.

  • John F.

    In our current culture, I’m actually surprised that the discussion of privilege or diversity hasn’t really come up with American Olympic athletes. Then again, criticizing an Olympic athlete makes for a tough argument.

    • Maybe, but acknowledging privilege isn’t necessarily criticizing it. It’s just recognizing that it exists.

      • John F.

        Certainly, and both you and I know that. But I suspect that some folks would see it as detracting from the work/dedication that the athlete has put into their success. Its much more difficult to point out privilege when the person has literally dedicated their life to their dream of being an gold medal winner or otherwise. For those who want to spread awareness about privilege, it strikes me that they might want to avoid people who are often seen in American society as the pinnacle of hard work and achievement.

  • KTN

    I coach a very expensive sport, working with elite teen athletes, and yes, depending on the level, families easily pony up $12-30,000 year for participation. This starts as a U14, and only gets more expensive as the kids age. Go to a sports academy and the bill is much closer to $70,000 for the year.

    In 30 years, I’ve had 4 athletes move onto the national team (out of hundreds I’ve coached), so the top of that pyramid is pretty small.My athletes and their parents know this. More than just making “the team”, are all the intangibles that come with my sport. Traveling in a van, co-ed, staying in a house for a week with up to 10 others for a competition, and the most important thing; becoming good citizens.

    For most of these kids, in 10 years, a couple bucks and low points (how we measure progress) will get them a cup of coffee. They know making the national team is a long shot, but everything else is within reach – including competing for a Div 1 college.

    Oh, and all these families take vacations and sock away for retirement already – this isn’t a sacrifice for them in the least.

    • Al

      I’m hoping my kids get those intangibles from less competitive sports, dance, and music ensembles. We can’t afford top-notch teams, and I’m not sure I want my daughters to BE the very best (with everything that entails).

  • Al

    Our office was just discussing privilege in sports this morning, at our office-wide stand-up meeting. A few of us had investigated snowboarding last night (as did half of the parents in America, I’m sure), after watching Chloe Kim’s ridiculously awesome run, and the price tag for, say, a beginner at Afton put all but one of our office staff off.

    $100 a session? Not happening, unless we want to eat PB&J for the rest of the week. And the public health professional in me would rather have decent, healthy, in-person family dinners than PB&J on the freeway while we schlep the prodigy to his/her lesson.