How Far To Take the Lessons?

The American Family is now in the process of finding its way to a new normal as the rising consumption pattern of the past 50 years meets the declining income pattern of the past decade.  While there’s cyclicality to the economy, it’s dawning on us that what’s occurring now is not cyclical but structural, as the American economy finally gives way to the consequences of errant policy decisions and global competition.  Parents have to now consider what they can actually afford as they balance the costs of raising children with the realities of preparing for the future in a fiscally-constrained society.  This particular point is brought home in the present question in my mind – if a child has a non-scholastic interest in something, what is the value of private lessons and how far should those lessons be taken?

One of the keynotes of the employment picture in the past two years is the rise of the part-time job in lieu of full-time employment.  Young adults are graduating college with iffy job prospects and certain debt while more than a few middle-aged folks are suddenly finding themselves out of work as well.  Teen unemployment is high as the kids are caught between traditional jobs now being handled by adults and child-labor laws that restrict what employers are willing to offer.  What’s cropped up more noticeably on my radar, especially in terms of sports, are the personal coaches who are happy to work with the kids at a rate of $35/hour or higher, if there’s an actual facility involved.  This supplements the traditional realm of the music teacher, who historically taught the child instrumental or vocal music.  As more people are stretching to figure out ways to make money, they’re taking what talents they might have and putting them on the market as instructional services. 

But what should I consider if these are a prospect?  The cost of footing the bill for a teen soccer development team can run a family into the thousands of dollars annually and the same can be spent locally at a baseball training facility.  Is it worth it?

As a full disclosure, we’ve forked over money for piano and vocal lessons; the former simply because we believe that it’s important for children with any interest in music to learn how to play piano and read music and the latter more recently because Middle has a good voice and a budding interest in the arts as a career.  But the sports realm is a different issue for us.  Youngest wants to play drums but his talent is physical; as Eldest – his sister – once commented, he’s the family jock.  He’s played soccer and wants to take up both football and rugby when he’s older, assuming that his mother and I finally agree on whether those are options.  But his love is baseball, which he’s played for years now.  His fielding is good and he’s proven to be an okay pitcher, but his real talent has been at the plate and that’s where the question now arises.  He’s continually hit in the upper .300s and he rarely strikes out; he’s got an ability to put the bat to the ball and at least put it into play.  In the movie Moneyball, a scout talks to a prospect’s parents and comments that baseball is a game that the true players love but one that tells many at some point that it no longer loves them back and they move on.  Youngest is getting to a competitive level where more kids are finding that the sport doesn’t love them as much as they love it and they’re being winnowed away.  Apart from a week-long summer baseball clinic run by the local university program, do we cough up some extra money to hire someone to work with him personally?

As I write this, the back of my head is snorting derisively as it states Seriously?  It’s a kid’s game fer chrissake…  and I partially agree with that.  But it also comes down to three factors – expectations, odds and finances.

What are the expectations from such an act?  Am I looking for the next great batting champion or just helping the kid?  More importantly, does he want this or this being done for me?

What are the odds on potential outcomes?  It’s statistically damned near impossible that he, or any other kid, will ever make the big leagues.  But there’s a greater likelihood that with some effort, he can turn this love for the game into assistance with his college education; I know several families who have staked their kids’ college on massive investments in sport clinics and special teams, more than I expect to spend. 

What are the finances?  This won’t be taking the place of the 529 plan, but is there some way that I can funnel some funds off to cover the expense?  There’s also an additional perspective to finances and that’s in the future.  I spoke with the mother of an elementary age softball player who was paying $35/hour to a young woman who played softball seriously through college and her comment was that if her own girl stuck with it, she could also wind up with the skill set that would allow her to make some on-the-side money from coaching future youngsters. 

That’s precisely where we need to understand that we are employment-wise.  There are no longer going to be any major corporations that will carry you on the books for your lifespan and looming public austerity makes the dole iffy at best.  You’re going to have to assess your skill-set and creatively figure out what you need to do to cobble together an income-stream to support yourself and your family.

And remember that if you are able to handle such an expense in some form, you’re doing more to put food on another family’s table than purchasing crap from Walmart.


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