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I can’t believe how expensive youth sports are! My kid isn’t even born yet, but the idea of him/her playing sports, especially hockey here in Minnesota, is already stressing me out, haha!
Maybe you can relate to that, or maybe one of these statements hits home.
- I want to give my kids every opportunity, but it’s so expensive!
- My kids love sports. I feel like I need to figure out a way to pay for them to play.
- If I invest money into sports, maybe they’ll get a scholarship for college.
I think I would’ve been devastated if my parents told me I couldn’t play sports.
Can We Unpack a Couple Ridiculous Statistics About Youth Sports?
1. Youth sports has become a $15 Billion a year business. $15 BILLLION!
I can’t even wrap my head around how big that number is. The $15 billion includes league fees, uniforms, transportation, private coaching, and camps.
2. 20% of families spend $1,000 or more EVERY MONTH for each kid
This specifically relates to Elite Sports programs. I’m talking Little World Series caliber of leagues. There’s no doubt those kids are AMAZING!
Most families believe that for their kid to have a shot at the pros, or even a college scholarship they need to be in the best leagues, on the best teams, and attend the best camps. And many families are willing to pay a premium for that.
$1,000 is more than my mortgage. Heck, that’s ⅓ of my monthly expenses. Just for fun, here’s a list of things you could do for $1,000 every month instead of spend it on sports:
- Go to 100 movies @ $10 a pop
- Watch 20 professional sports games
- Invest it and have at least $216,000 when your kid graduates high school. Who needs a scholarship with that much saved!?
- Start a pony collection. You can get a new one every month for $1,000. By the end of the year, you’ll have your own pony express carnival ride and can start making that money back!
Okay, all jokes aside, this really does seem like a lot of money to spend on sports every month. I can’t imagine having multiple kids and spending $1,000 on each of them.
Back in My Day, Sports Were Just a Game and Everyone Got to Play
I feel like an old man saying this, but back in my day sports were for everyone, not just the families who could afford it. And of course we had to walk to the games, uphill both ways, in the snow! 🙂
I played every sport I could get my hands. I couldn’t get enough. Before high school, my small rinky dink town only offered baseball and basketball. So, that’s what I played!
Then as I got older I played high school football and golf for our school teams to round out my 4 season athlete schedule.
Youth Sports Costs Are Out of Control. I’m Glad I Grew Up in the 90s
I have no idea how much it cost my parents for me to play. I actually don’t think they paid a dime for all of my sports combined. My high school sports were free anyway. Even if they did pay, I know it was a fraction of what it will be for our kids.
I also didn’t attend many camps, which also helped. Also, there weren’t many camps offered in my neck of the woods, and to be honest it didn’t really interest me a lot. I’m sure my parents were happy about this. 🙂
If I was a kid today, there’s no way I would’ve been able to play so many sports. My family wasn’t wealthy and I know we couldn’t afford it.
The Big Dilemma: Is putting your kids in sports worth the financial burden?
A lot of factors go into the cost of youth sports. Let’s break them down to see why the heck it’s so expensive.
Remember, these are general trends. All sports can get really expensive if your child plays for club teams, which play year round, or qualifies for the most competitive leagues.
Registration fees are one of the most varied costs in youth sports. It all depends on how competitive the league is, and how much you’re willing to pay to be a part of the big time competition.
A recreation league is a pretty minimal investment, so you can generally expect to pay in the range of $100-300 for the season. Of course that doesn’t include travel, gas, or snacks at weekend tournaments. It’s always good to factor in a few extra bucks into the budget to be on the safe side.
Are the Expensive Leagues Really that Much Better?
All sports have the potential to be crazy expensive. You just need to find the right leagues and programs. Mike Dougherty wrote this in The Journal News about the extreme side of youth sports. He was only referring to basketball here, but the same principle applies for any sport.
“Moving up the ladder into super leagues and club teams comes with greater expense. Those programs operate year round, so team fees, uniforms and equipment quickly add up to $1,500-$2,000. Any team that gets on airplanes is high rent.
Kids who land on a top 100 list are generally taken care of by elite club teams. And those who aspire to play at that level typically spend $3,000-$5,000 a year to cover coaching, training and travel.”
Uniforms and Equipment
Not all sports require families to buy their own equipment. For example, you don’t need to bring your own basketball and jersey to play basketball. All you need is the right kind of shoes.
However, hockey requires athletes to pony up the dough for a stick, skates, pads and protective gear, breezers, socks, maybe a helmet, and a huge giant, smelly bag to carry it all! Steve from Life, Love, and Blog shares how his sons’ sports gear really added up fast. Keep reading to get the full scoop!
Travel and Lodging
Like registration, this cost varies A LOT! Almost all youth sports require some element of travel. When I played, we only had to drive a couple hours max for a one day tournament. Luckily it was pretty cheap.
On the other end of the spectrum, your kiddo’s team could be staying in a hotel every weekend for a hockey tournament.
I’m from Minnesota, so hockey is the big time sport. I know families who spend hundreds of dollars every month just on hotel stays. That doesn’t include gas money, food, or dining out.
I pray my kids never want to play hockey, or my inner frugal self might self destruct, haha!
As mentioned above, the elite teams and leagues may require players to fly with their team, possibly internationally. Expect to shell out thousands for this type of royal treatment.
Camps and Coaching
When coaches start to get paid, the cost to play naturally goes up. In Minnesota, hockey is an elite sport, while in Texas, it’s football. Elite leagues require elite coaches, and when you coach the best of the best, you get paid more. If you want the big name coaches and trainers, be ready to shell out big time bucks for it.
A Few Tips to Save Money on Youth Sports
Everyone likes to save a few bucks right? Let’s look at a few ideas to keep your kids in sports without breaking the family budget.
- Buy used equipment: your child doesn’t always need the bright shiny basketball shoes, or top of the line soccer shorts, especially if they’re first trying out a sport. There is plenty of good used gear out there. Play it again sports, Savers, and Goodwill are a few great places to shop, or find a friend who outgrew last year’s gear. Maybe they’ll give it away for free!
- Enroll in your school teams: School teams tend to be the cheapest option. Not all schools require you to “pay to play”. I know my school didn’t. Plus your child gets to play with pride representing his/her own school!
- Take a season off: If your child is like me, they want to play sports all the time! However, that might not be realistic for your budget. It might be worth your time to talk openly and honestly about the costs and ask them to pick 2 sports instead of 4. Who knows, maybe your kiddo will even want to chip in to help pay!
There’s More to Sports than Just the Cost
I love sports for so many reasons. As a life long athlete, playing sports has played a big role in my character development. A friend of mine wrote an article earlier this year that highlights the value of sports for all who play, not just the best of the best who get college scholarships.
On his site, Monkey Free Me, Josh talks about Grit! The physical strain of sports helps young athletes find an inner determination that can be a driving force in their lives. I’m not going to go into all the details here, so please head over to his site to learn more. Seriously great stuff.
He also has great insight on the costs too, since his 3 kids all play pretty competitive sports.
What are the Odds Your Young Athlete Will Get a Scholarship?
Some families view their money spent on sports as an investment. There’s always the chance that their star pitcher will get a college scholarship, which is a great goal. However, the odds are definitely stacked against them.
The statistics are pretty bad. Mark Hyman is an assistant professor at George Washington University and has written several books on youth sports. Here’s what he has to say on the topic:
“Parents think these investments are justified; they think it will lead to a full ride to college. That’s highly misinformed. The percentage of high school kids who go on to play in college is extremely small. In most sports it’s under 5 percent. And the number for kids getting school aid is even smaller — it’s 3 percent.”
“What I tell parents is if you want to get a scholarship for your kids, you’re better off investing in a biology tutor than a quarterback coach. There’s much more school dollars for academics.”
Of course young athletes get scholarships every year, but colleges and universities only have so much money to offer, and sadly can’t help everyone.
A Testimonial from a Sports Dad
I don’t have kids in sports yet, so I found someone who does. Steve had boys play sports all through school, and I’m thankful he offered to write about his experience with boys who played sports all their lives. Thank you Steve!
“Sports were a big part of my sons’ lives, from preschool all through high school.
When they were little, I never said “no” to trying a new sport. I wanted them to have the opportunity to find what suited them best.
Luckily, tennis, swimming, and karate were through the local YMCA and not very expensive. Not a lot of equipment to buy either. Basketball was through our church, so it wasn’t very expensive either.
Football and baseball did take more budgeting and planning though. The local football and baseball leagues were around $125-$150 per kid per sport. When you throw in new cleats ($50), shoulder pads ($75-100), helmet ($100-$125), football pants with pads ($40), gloves for baseball ($50-$75), you can really start to get into some money.
I would take inventory of their equipment prior to the season starting to see what still fit (pads, helmet, etc.) from the previous year and determine what needed to be purchased. Sometimes we borrowed equipment from older kids that had outgrown their stuff. Similarly, we passed down our used equipment to younger kids.
Travel wasn’t much of a factor when they were little. All of their league games and activities were around town. Travel really came into play when they got into junior high and high school and were playing on the school teams. I would look ahead to the away games and try to set some money aside for tickets, gas and food. I’ve eaten a bunch of concession stand hot dogs.
Over the years I spent a lot of money on registration fees, equipment, Gatorade (should have bought stock in that stuff), travel, etc., but it was worth every penny to have the memories that we made.
My older son wanted some $40 wide receiver gloves one year. I balked at first, but he convinced me that they would help him. His next game he got his first reception of the year right in front of where I was sitting. The best $40 I ever spent.
There were some financial sacrifices and logistical nightmares, but it was all money and time well spent to give them those opportunities and me those memories.”
Thanks Steve for sharing your experience!
How Much Money is Too Much?
Youth sports cost more today than ever. Sports have amazing benefits for young athletes, but can create such a burden on family finances.
Let Me Know in the Comments
What do you think? How do you fit youth sports into your budget? Do you think it’s worth the costs?
Hi there, Mr. Jamie Griffin! I love that you made mention of the character development aspect of youth sports.
Both of my sons were hugely into sports growing up, and I truly believe it contributed to the men they are today. While many times we were barely scraping by from one paycheck to the next, there was never any doubt that the boys would be signing up to play basketball and baseball once the season rolled around.
Funny, my husband and I would sometimes have heated discussions over whether we should withhold sports privileges as a form of punishment for getting poor grades, or the like. I didn’t understand why they were still allowed to “play” with their friends, when they weren’t holding up their end of the bargain. But my husband would counter the obligation of not letting their fellow teammates down. Also, keeping them busy with sports meant there wouldn’t be an abundance of spare time to get themselves into trouble (as teenage boys sometimes do.)
But I now get it — it’s the time commitment, dedication, leadership and confidence building that contributes to the future successes of these youths.
And to me, that’s priceless. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for such a thoughtful response and sharing your story. I agree that sports are so important for leadership and character development.
I think they definitely helped me, and as a coach I want to help build men of character.
And the cool thing is you don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to be in elite leagues for the character side of sports.
This is such an important topic for parents. We have three kids, and two of them LOVE to play sports. My son is a very good hockey player, but he didn’t start playing until he was 10. Most kids start at age 4 or 5 where we live (Canada). Our feeling was, if he’s not asking to play, why shell out a couple thousand dollars a year. Instead he played soccer when he was younger, which was very affordable. Eventually, he began to fall in love with hockey, so we signed him up. It only took him a season and a half and he caught up with the other kids. Rather than sign him up for expensive, elite training camps, we registered him in power skating lessons, which was super affordable, and more effective in developing his skills. Skating ability is everything. Yes, we’ve spent thousands on hockey, but FAR less than most other families. His experiences have been just as rich, and he’s a high calibre player. He’ll never play in the NHL, but neither will 99.9999% of kids who play. I will say, it AMAZES me how many parents think their kid will play professionally. You can pick them out a mile away, : )
Thanks for sharing MMM. That’s really amazing your son caught up so fast. It shows that you don’t need to start as soon as you learn to skate to be competitive, which is a common misconception.
I think it’s hard to do a sport like hockey and not spend thousands. The gear itself is expensive. But you saved a ton by waiting for him to fall in love with it.
Hi MJG –
Great article that I will definitely share with others. My wife and I spent a lot of money on travel lacrosse with our younger two sons. Both went on to play at the college level and the scholarships were helpful but I always told them that they would never earn a penny playing lacrosse so academics should always come first. The older of my two lax players has gone on to be drafted into Major League Lacrosse as a pro. To this day I am convinced part of the motivation he has it to prove me wrong. . . and I’m ok with that.
In addition to that, and more importantly, his passion for sports has served him as a foundation for his career in financial services. Every summer job and internship on his resume came to him as a result of this lacrosse network. HIs two ‘real jobs’ post college graduation came to him by networking with the parents of the kids on the summer youth lacrosse teams that he coached while he was in high school and colletge.
Fortunately, for me he’s also inspired his younger brother to follow in his footsteps. Sibling rivalry is at work so my younger son now plays in college. I am certain his driven to one-up his big brother. . .and, again, I’m ok with that.
I was not a youth sports player as a child, so my sons passion and drive for sports was of his own making, but if I had to do it all over again, I would not have changed a thing because it has served as the foundation for his success in his business career and life.
I think sports are so much more than a game! I learned so much about myself and my capabilities through sports and they helped shape my character.
It sounds like your sons have had amazing experiences! Those are the things you can’t really put a price on and make me want to put all the money into sports and extracurriculars for my future kiddos.
Thanks for sharing your experience and insights! I really appreciate it.
Thanks for this article. My older daughter has played in inexpensive rec leagues so far and has loved it. She’s very competitive, and playing team sports has helped her learned how to manage it.
Now she’s getting to the age where her peers are moving toward more expensive club and travel leagues, so I’m starting to get worried. Her favorite sport (basketball) is fortunately one of the cheapest in terms of equipment, and she also loves to run, run, run, so I hope she does track later. It’s unfortunate that, around here, kids who haven’t played in competitive leagues or had coaching often can’t even make the middle-school or high-school teams anymore. And even apart from the money, the time commitment for travel sports is pretty staggering.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. I coach middle school basketball and it’s a staggering difference between kids you have played in leagues growing up and kids who haven’t. There is an advantage to get kids started early on, but I think rec leagues are a great alternative for the traveling leagues and such.