The Cost of Raising an Olympian: How to Finance Your Child's Dreams

07/13/2012 02:39 pm ET | Updated Sep 12, 2012

By Catherine McManus, Associate Director of Marketing Communications, Women & Co.

In a recent blog post, I shared the story of Aimee Ross, a Manhattan mom who would never have guessed that her daughter Nicole's natural talent would take her all the way to compete on the U.S. Foil Fencing team at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. But as exhilarating as it is to raise such a gifted child, it can be equally expensive. Do you think your child's talent could take her all the way? Whether her goal is a place on an Olympic podium, a professional sports career or a college scholarship, it's time to start thinking about how you're going to budget for her dreams now.

• Before your child decides on a program, get a realistic picture of each sport's costs. Greg Bach, Vice President of Communications for The National Alliance for Youth Sports, America's leading advocate for positive and safe sports for children, recommends checking on equipment costs before anything else. "One of the first questions parents should ask when looking at different sports programs for their child is what equipment is required to participate; and secondly, what equipment will they be required to purchase and what, if any, is provided by the program." He estimates that hockey is one of the most expensive sports for kids because they are typically expected to purchase most of the gear, like skates, gloves and helmets. Basketball and soccer, on the other hand, can be relatively inexpensive, since they require much less equipment.

• Look for ways to save on travel. Whether you're driving a vanload of kids to a swim meet in a neighboring state or flying overseas to accompany your child to a world championship, travel costs for major competitions can add up quickly. Once Nicole got a little older, Aimee and her husband took turns chaperoning trips with parents of other kids who were competing in the same tournaments to cut down on some of the travel expenses when their daughter needed to compete overseas.

• Be wary of hidden costs. Before you sign your child up for a particular program, Bach recommends talking to the coaches and parents about any additional contributions that parents might be expected to make if their child is a part of the team. Will you need to bring beverages or snacks for everyone after the game? Do they typically plan group activities around travel games, like a trip to the local amusement park or a team dinner? Figure out the additional expenses in advance so that you can plan accordingly.

• Find creative ways to fund major expenses. Bach suggests speaking with the director of your child's athletic program if you're in need of financial assistance. "Some recreation programs have funding to assist those in need with registration fees or other program-related costs. Or, they may offer a payment plan so parents can gradually pay the registration fee or any equipment costs associated with participating." You might also be able to find help from a private foundation that focuses on your child's area of interest, or apply for a grant from your child's school to help offset some of the costs associated with competing.

• Don't overdo it. If your child starts to feel overwhelmed by the amount of time spent at practice -- and you're getting overwhelmed by the amount of time you're spending in the car shuttling back and forth -- it may be time to re-evaluate. According to Bach, "What a lot of parents tend to overlook is that if the child's enthusiasm isn't there, the experience will be a miserable one for the youngster and he or she will likely be turned off from the sport for good."

How can you tell if your child is ready to compete at a higher level? Let your child be your guide. "Fencing has been such a wonderful thing for Nicole," beams Aimee. "She was gifted, a great student, and she worked hard -- and we couldn't be more proud."

About the Author:

Catherine McManus leads public relations efforts for Women & Co.--her goal is to raise awareness for the site by leveraging insights from our content and partnerships to create news, build buzz, and activate social influencers as ambassadors for the Women & Co. brand. Prior to Women & Co., Catherine held various communications roles at The Parenting Group, publisher of Parenting magazine and, where she led the creation and execution of the group's national PR efforts and the development of various multi-media editorial partnerships. She began her career at Southard Communications, a PR firm in New York City specializing in consumer product publicity. Catherine is a native New Yorker, a graduate of Fordham University, and currently lives in Manhattan with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter.