Does economic privilege affect the improvement of athletes?


Listed from left to right: Hanna Beck, Hannah Neuman, and Jessica Chivini. The 2017 girls varsity tennis players receiving their shirts before heading to state. Chivini is the only one of the three players who trains at Acceleration, while Beck and Neuman opted to not take part in the program and were still able to secure a spot at state. Photo courtesy of Jessica Chivini.

Dana Balmas, Assistant Editor in Chief

For years, wealthy parents in the Naperville community have been enrolling their children in a growing list of sports. From soccer to basketball to ultimate frisbee, many kids in the area have no trouble finding their athletic calling. Helping this process along is the expensive, out-of-school training that many athletes choose to undergo after focusing on their one sport.  With programs ranging from $100-$200 for a two-hour session area, these elite and wealthy athletes can easily excel. Having someone closely monitor the diet and all the fitness steps an athlete is taking to improve can vastly increase their chances of being noticed. The development of these new programs begs the question: is affluence associated with the improvement of dedicated athletes?

To give you a little bit of background — the sports world includes many different sub-sections, depending on which sport that you are involved in. For example, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, hockey, etc. all have a sub-section for improvement known as their “travel teams” or “club sports.” These groups require a higher time-commitment than most school teams as well as a huge financial investment for the athlete’s future. Many of these kids spend more time with their travel teams and coaches than they do at their own homes. It is the life of a student-athlete whose family can afford the temporal and monetary landslide of it all. Often times, these are the kids who make the Varsity sports teams at Neuqua.

Yes, there is a certain level of self-accountability required when improving at one’s own sport, but add the extra help that some athletes receive from their coaches and then on top of that, help from more coaches from outside conditioning programs, you have the perfect recipe for a future pro. All I am saying is that without the money that some of these parents provide, who is to say that these skilled athletes would  still be as impressive as they are now if they could not afford that extra help but put in the same amount of work? In most situations, it is up to the parents to decide if these programs are financially plausible, and many have jumped at the opportunity.

At Players Indoor Sports Center in Naperville, a newer program is being run called “Acceleration,” which many Neuqua students have been taking advantage of. From track athletes to tennis players, these individuals are paying big bucks for the extra help. Jessica Chivini, sophomore, plays on the varsity tennis team and is among some of the athletes who train at Acceleration. She says “Acceleration really helped [her] not only develop [her] athletic skills but also [her] confidence.” Players who do not receive this individual training are not getting that added confidence boost that Chivini spoke very highly about. Could the amount of confidence a player has affect how well they ultimately perform on the field or on the courts?

As an athlete myself, I think about this question often as I find myself struggling with being confident when making split-second decisions on the soccer field. Additionally as tryouts approach, I really have to consider how well I think I will be doing under that level of pressure. Because I am only able to practice with myself in my backyard or with friends, the added pressure of having eyes watching me is not there all the time. Simulating that same pressure outside of an environment like Acceleration is also very difficult on its own, which brings me back to the question: does the economic capability to train at places like Acceleration improve an athlete’s development within their sport?

James Kennedy, head coach of boys’ track, explains an opposite viewpoint that these outside programs are unnecessary. He defends the in-school sports method and repeats “Trust the process,” to ensure me that it is just as efficient. Track athletes can find results about how they are improving on websites like, and Kennedy says “if you’re not measuring it, it doesn’t exist.” Kennedy believes that the coaches of the outside programs do not have the same level of investment that Kennedy and other school coaches have, and this is why he thinks fully participating in the school sport is sufficient for athlete growth. He ultimately believes the athlete should “trust their coach,” and results will happen along the way.

As we have explored, there are a few ways money can be linked to the development of athletes and ways money does affect growth as well. At the end of the day though, it is what each individual person chooses to do with their resources that counts. Sure you can pay for all the classes you want at Acceleration, but if you are not giving 110% of your effort all the time, what really are you gaining? There is no unfair advantage if you are just not trying enough. Players who are truly committed to and in love with their sports will work all the time, no matter where or when they have to do it. The playing field may not seem so level when there are such varying degrees of wealth in the world, but ultimately, it is not how much money you have; it is how much extra work you are willing to put in to get to where you want to go.