Sports Strain Family Budget

Consider Hidden Costs Before Signing Up

Often overlooked in the quest to keep youth sports in perspective and balance for your children and your family is the need to keep sports from overwhelming the family budget.

Participation in youth sports can be, and often is, expensive. One mother estimated that her family's expenses for her three children at $100,000 over a 10-year period. As a child moves up the competitive ladder, the costs of participating can begin to outpace, or, at the very least, strain the financial capability of all but the most well-to-do families (indeed, user fees for high school sports are increasingly making them the playground only for middle- to upper-middle class families). It can get to the point where the annual cost may be the third biggest item in the family's budget after only the mortgage and car payments. Some of the costs may be covered by fundraising, but fundraising does only so much.

Parents often do not realize before enrolling their child in a youth sports program what it is going to cost, for that season, and, more importantly, beyond. They fail to appreciate all of the hidden costs only to find out, after it is too late, that they are in too deep to do anything but shell out the dough and sacrifice in other areas. "It kind of sneaks up on you," says Barbara Carlson, president and co-founder of Putting Family First, a Minnesota organization trying to restore balance between organized youth sports and family life. This can lead parents to resent their child's participation, creating tension within the family as a greater and greater portion of the family's income is sucked into the seemingly bottomless hole of youth sports.

Estimating costs in advance is critical

One of the best ways to avoid imbalance and financial strain later on is to get a handle on the costs of youth sports before you sign your child up and get yourself in too deep to turn back. Don't be afraid to say no out of guilt: if you can't afford to have your child play a particular sport because of the expense, don't take on more debt or a second job: just be honest with your child as to why he can't play.

In estimating the costs of your child participating in a particular sport, you need to consider the following categories of expenses:

  • Registration fees: Registration fees can range from less than fifty dollars up into the thousands of dollars. Here is a sampling of fees:
    • AAU basketball: $150 to $600 base fees per season

    • Elite swimming: $500 to $3,000 per year

    • Elite gymnastics: $1,000 to $2,000 base tuition/year

    • Select soccer: $125 to $550 per season

    • Fall baseball: $115 to $450

    • Elite volleyball: $400 to $775 per year

Be sure to ask your child's coach or club what the registration fee covers, especially whether it includes the cost of registering your child's team for tournaments.

  • Equipment: Be sure to include not only the cost of equipment (shoes, pads, glove, helmet, bat, etc.), but how often it will need to be replaced, due either to the child's growth or normal wear and tear (for example: a tennis player competing all-year round might go through 300 sets of gut strings, and as many as 150 racquets per year! Buying a new softball bat every year can run between $250 and $300!)
  • Transportation: With the cost of gasoline over four dollars a gallon (for good, it now seems), travel expenses, even to away games within an hour or so of where you live, can be a significant. Be sure to include the cost of oil changes, scheduled maintenance, travel to practices, games, tournaments, summer camps, and airplane fare to distant domestic or foreign tournaments.
  • Lodging: All those nights at Motel 6 add up.
  • Clinics/Private Instruction/Private Academies: Private coaches charge as much as the market will bear. Expect to pay between $20 and $100 per hour. Private academies can run as much as $30,000 per year. Monthly memberships at one of the sports training/conditioning and performance centers that are sprouting up all over the country can run $75 per month, not including the cost of private coaching.
  • Tournaments: The costs to enter tournaments can, even split among all the players parents, can mount up very quickly.
  • Summer Sports Camps: A 3-week basketball camp can cost $2,500.
  • Instructional Aids: Books, videos; equipment like baseball bounce backs, soccer or lacrosse goals can be expensive.
  • Gifts and mementos: Remember to budget for your share of the cost of the coaches' end-of-the-season gifts, team photos, and other mementos.

When all is said and done, you can expect to pay more than $6,000 per child per year for club sports, personal training, travel and equipment beyond the fees for high school sports. Ask yourself whether the money might be better spent on a family ski vacation or a new set of bikes.



Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) by Brooke de Lench.

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