The cost associated with youth sports have increased significantly since I was a kid, along with the commitment that many sports now require (multiple practices, travel, and equipment). As a parent, you sometimes wonder whether the time and money are really worth it. Will he really like football as much as he says? Will she really want to play field hockey beyond one season? While the financial costs are easy to track, there’s also the physical and emotional stresses that need to be considered (e.g. practice, homework, dinner). Youth sports aren’t what they used to be!
When I was growing up, I knew plenty of kids that were awesome at their sport (golf, gymnastics, soccer, football, rugby, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, field hockey, ice skating, swimming, track/cross country, karate) and a few of them even got sports scholarships to college. I figure skated from age 4 to 14. I spent hours practicing my edges and jumps every day. I was dedicated and I loved my sport. I competed in Lake Placid and I met my goal of landing my axel. I also realized at that point that I was not going to the Olympics, so I hung up my skates and chose to have fun in high school.
Fortunately, I was able to walk away from my sport without a physical injury or emotional guilt for having spent so much time on the ice or thinking I wasted my parents’ time and money. I did ask my mom how much money she spent on private coaching, travel for ice time and competitions/camps. She said, “I can’t remember” (or did she block it from her memory?). She did say that whenever my dad asked how much is this costing me, she’d reply, “A lot!”
Like it or not, the reality of youth sports is big business and big commitment. The U.S. travel industry banks on millions of parents spending thousands of dollars a year on each kid. Food for thought: Youth sporting events create $7 billion in economic mpact according to the Sports Facilities Advisory.
Before breaking out your wallet, sit down with your kids and show them the cost of their sport. This exercise will keep them involved in the sport of their choice and teach them decision-making skills. Try to help them understand the commitment they are making for themselves and explain the sacrifices the family will make to be able to support their decision.
I needed to make a hard choice when I was 8. My parents asked me what activities I wanted to continue to invest my time in. I chose to forgo Brownies and gymnastics and stick with ice skating. I don’t regret my decision even though I would have loved to continue doing it all. How can we help our kids choose a sport? Here are some considerations:
As parents, we’re willing to invest the money for registration/association fees, equipment/uniform purchases but we need to make sure that our kids understand the commitment. That means playing the full season, going to practices and games with a good attitude, and promising to always do their best.
Discuss time spent away from the rest of the family, travel time to games and practices, and help them to understand how playing time works. Also, talk to your child about how to structure their homework schedule around their practices? They also may have to let go of an extra-curricular activity, so count that cost, too?
Try out several different sports. Listen to their preferences and watch to see which one they seem to be most interested in. Most importantly, make sure they are having fun.
What type of sport is right for them? Do they enjoy the camaraderie of a team or do they prefer the challenge of individual sports?
As you can see, there is a cost to youth sports that goes beyond the money. Helping your child to better understand which sport is right for them, how each sports works, and the time commitment involved and its effects on their schedule will teach them great decision-making skills.
My nearly 9-year-old enjoys playing soccer and basketball. He likes the camaraderie of the team, he likes cheering on his teammates and most of all he likes to win. Our family likes to travel but we aren’t ready to trade in our family vacation fund for youth sports travel or training camps. For now, we’ll follow his lead and let him decide for himself which sport he wants to pursue. Until then we’ll just let him be a kid with a ball.
Nikki Ducas is a Fredericksburg mom teaching her two young sons financial responsibility with the “less is more” mindset.