Image Credit: Susie Theis

My two daughters are officially ski racers. They’ve been on the Sugar Bowl Ski Team for seven years now, skied twice this summer, and will attend winter term at Sugar Bowl Academy this coming season. Because of this burgeoning involvement in our sport, I’m often asked by other parents why they ski race and why I want them to ski race. I first tell them that they race because they just love training, improving, and competing (note the absence of anything having to do with results). More on that in a future article.

As for why I want my girls to race, given my elite racing experience back in the day, many parents have said: “I’ll bet you want them to be the next Mikaela Shiffrin and become rich and famous.” or “You want them to ski in college, don’t you?” Though both would certainly be nice, they are not the reason why I want my daughters to ski race. In either case, it’s not a ROI (Return on Investment) that ski racing parents should expect or even hope for.

Here’s a simply reality. If you’re looking for an ROI of money and celebrity from your kids’ ski racing, you are making a very bad investment. Even if you’re just hoping for a college athletic scholarship, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Two surveys shed light on why you shouldn’t put your money (or your time or energy) into either.

First, to show you how distorted parents’ perception of what it takes to compete at the highest level of sport, one survey asked parents of high school varsity athletes whether their children would compete at the professional or Olympic level. 26 percent of the parents said that their kids would. Yes, you heard me right more than 1-in-4 believed it to be possible. Yet, the truth is that the chances of that happening are many zeroes to the right of the decimal point.

Second, a few years back, The New York Times published a three-part series of articles exploring the efforts that parents are making to help their children get college athletic scholarships. The articles reported that parents are spending tens of thousands of dollars each year (or more!) on private coaches, personal trainers, sports camps, and the latest equipment. And what is the Holy Grail their young athletes may receive if, against all odds, they are offered an athletic scholarship? On average, about $7,000 a year (of course, at the top of the pyramid, there are full rides, but they are few and far between). If you know anything about finance, you know that the ROI has, well, a minus sign before it. You would be much better off putting all of that money that you would spend on your kids’ sport and put it in a 529 account where you could see your investment accrue annually.

And, as we all know, ski racing is one of the more expensive sports, well north of soccer, basketball, and swimming, though far south of equestrian, sailing, and auto racing. To put a real number on the cost, if you don’t live in a ski town, you’ll be paying around $50,000 a year for tuition at a ski academy and, once they reach FIS, another $30,000 a year for equipment, off-season training camps, race fees, and travel, not to mention buying a cabin near the ski area so you can see your kids occasionally (at least you’ll likely get a decent ROI on your real estate investment). OMG, are we in the wrong sport or what?!?!

But — a big BUT here! — If you have your kids in ski racing and your ROI isn’t measured in dollar signs, then, assuming you aren’t going to the poor house because of it, our sport is oh-so-worth-it and has an immense ROI for you and your children.

It’s hard to quantify the benefits of ski racing in dollars and cents, but the intangible ones are priceless. Image Credit: Susie Theis/Ski Racing Media

Let me start by saying that, after reading the rest of this article, you may ask, “But can’t our family gain the same benefits from, say, swimming, where the only equipment is a swimsuit, cap, and goggles, and we can join a local swim program?” or some other sport that has minimal equipment costs, mostly local travel, and doesn’t require sending your kids away or moving lock, stock, and barrel to a small mountain town? Well, though I’m obviously biased, I would argue that though there are certainly benefits to be gained from any sport that your kids participate in, ski racing is unique and special because whatever other sports may offer, ski racing offers the same and more with the volume turned way up.

In what forms does your ROI come back to you in? Let me count the ways.

Let’s start with what your kids get out of ski racing. In the short run, young racers get to have fun just skiing and being outdoors. They make great friends and get to travel all over the world. They have the opportunity to gain mastery of a lifetime sport. Ski racing is also exciting, challenging, and immensely satisfying.

But the real ROI comes from what kids get out of being a ski racer in the long term. As I wrote back in 2013, alpine ski racing is one brutal sport that constantly challenges and tests young racers in ways that are far outside what most children experience in their lives. Ski racing is physically demanding, highly technical, seriously tactical, and equipment dependent. It is a sport of milliseconds (as Anna Veith learned in the Olympic SG) and there is little room for error. Our sport also has many types of ever-changing conditions including snow, terrain, weather, and the course. All of these factors create an environment rife with uncertainty and uncontrollability. And when your children slide into the starting gate, they are all alone, wholly responsible for their successes, but singularly accountable for their failures.

With that set up, the ROI starts to become more clear and it lies right between the ears and in the hearts of your young ski racers. Yes, the biggest ROIs from ski racing are psychological and emotional and, like an annuity, the dividends continue to be paid out throughout your children’s lives. Here are some of the most significant ROIs that your children receive from ski racing:

  • Motivation: The determination to sustain their efforts as they pursue their goals
  • Confidence: The belief that your kids can overcome any challenge
  • Focus: The ability to concentrate intently for extended periods and not be distracted
  • Calm: The capacity to stay cool under pressure
  • Emotions: Mastery over the wide range of feelings they will experience every day
  • Resilience: Being able to bounce back and keep moving forward in the face of struggles and setbacks
  • No fear of failure: Accepting that failure is an inevitable and necessary part of the pursuit of success
  • Courage: To face and overcome their fears
  • Self-reliance: Knowing they have what it takes to can handle most anything that life throws at them
  • Meaning: There are few experiences more satisfying and affirming than having given it their all against the longest of odds regardless of the outcome
  • The list goes on…

Here’s another way to think about it. I can’t speak to how life is for your children where you live, but where we live, in Mill Valley, California, just north of San Francisco, life is too darned easy for our daughters. Though my wife and I do our best to challenge our girls and create opportunities in which they must struggle, they aren’t often outside their comfort zone. As a result, perhaps the biggest ROI I expect from them being ski racers is that, quite simply, they will be tough. They will have been faced with all the adversity that ski racing has to throw at them, so when life inevitably hits them hard in the future, my daughters will get right back up and keep pursuing their dreams.

As for your ROI, there are also many:

  • Skiing with your young racers
  • Taking pride in their striving mightily toward their goals
  • Seeing your children become the qualities I just described
  • Watching them become great skiers
  • Sharing their triumphs and defeats
  • Watching your children develop into successful, happy, and good people

Now that is an investment I’m willing to make!

Want to be the best sport parent you can be? Take a look at my online course, Prime Sport Parenting 505: Raise Successful and Happy Athletes.

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Jim Taylor
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Jim Taylor, Ph.D., competed internationally while skiing for Burke Mountain Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. Over the last 30 years, he has worked with the U.S. and Japanese Ski Teams, many World Cup and Olympic racers, and most of the leading junior race programs in the U.S. and Canada. He is the creator of the Prime Ski Racing series of online courses and the author of Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Sports Goals. To learn more or to contact Jim, visit drjimtaylor.com
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