Youth Sports: Are They Worth the Expense?

My son has been involved in youth sports since he was three. We have run the gamut; gymnastics, karate, soccer, wrestling, lacrosse, and football. My initial goal in exposing him to youth sports was to have him expend some of his little boy energy in a way that was safe and fun for him.

Little did I know the love for competition would blossom at such a young age; he is addicted… to thrill of practice, games, and being a winner.

For those of you that don’t know me, I am a divorced single mom and my son is a Type 1 Diabetic. Over the past year I have added some pretty hefty medical expenses to the laundry list of bills that I pay each month. The added medical expenses have squeezed my already tight budget and my sons activities are becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up with financially.

What are your Reasons?

I feel these activities are important for him and will continue to make sacrifices where I can to ensure he can play. My reasons for involving my son in youth sports are slightly different than many of the other parents cheering along beside me at Saturday morning games.

  • I want my son to get plenty of exercise.  As a diabetic it is important for him to get plenty of exercise to help keep his blood sugar regulated and his body fit.
  • I want him to learn the meaning of “team”.  Teamwork is a fundamental life skill that I feel is best learned early. Being part of a team teaches lessons you can’t learn from a book; sharing, leadership, and working with others to accomplish a goal.
  • I want him to have fun!  My fondest memories from childhood were being part of youth sports teams. Being with kids your own age all trying to achieve a goal together, and building special friendships with people that are just like you.

Sometimes I wonder about the other parents… I think they think little Johnny is a superstar and destined to go pro; earning scholarships, sponsorships, and one day making millions so he can pay them back for the thousands of dollars his training cost over the course of his youth career.

Or, they see potential in little Johnny that they never had; otherwise know as “living vicariously through your kid”.

Sound familiar?

Let’s face the facts

The chances of going “pro” are about as good as hitting the lottery.

Little Johnny may be so burnt out from playing ball since he was three that at 18 he decides to quit.

One sunny Saturday afternoon little Johnny takes a “hit” and breaks his leg. The doctor says he will never be able to play like he used to.

So as you walk up to the registration table or into the sporting goods store ask yourself if you are there for the right reasons.

Can I afford this?

I have seen parents rack up serious credit card debt just so their kid can play and “look good” on the field. If the expense of youth sports does not fit in your budget you are going to need to make some adjustments or just say no.

Perhaps you can forgo other discretionary expenses to afford the sport or look into scholarship programs for families that can’t afford the cost. Our youth football program has these scholarships available I know they have helped many families who could otherwise not afford for their child to play.

Does my child really want to do this?

Every time my son comes home from school with a colorful flyer boasting the next season’s sport, I sigh and ask do you really want to do this?

When the response is yes, I make sure he understands that this is a commitment for both of us; me financially and him physically. I do not allow him to skip practice or miss games.

Commitment is another life lesson learned on the field, and believe me I take full advantage of all the life lessons I can get out of these expensive sports activities.

Are you trying to keep up with the Jones’s?

Yes, this even happens in youth sports. The goal of youth sports is for the kids to learn something new, have fun, and get exercise, not to see who has the tricked out lacrosse stick, or head to toe designer outfit.

As parents we want our kids to fit in, but the kids will do that on their own by being “themselves”. They don’t need all the stuff sporting good marketers try to sell them; $150 sneakers, super absorbent socks at $15 a pair, or high priced sports drinks. They will do just fine with used equipment, regular socks and good old fashioned water.

Equipment and practice attire can get out of control… if you let it. Ask yourself if new equipment is worth double the cost. My son wears hand-me-down cleats from his cousin (we are lucky the sizes are right in line for this) for both football and lacrosse and we purchased his lacrosse gear at Play it again Sports, a store that buys and sells used equipment. 

The point I am trying to make is that youth sports are a great way to teach your kids valuable lessons: how to set goals, hard work, teamwork, dealing with pressure—all lessons that will serve them well in life. We all want that for our kids, but like anything else you have to weigh the benefits and the expense. Youth sports are expensive, this is not likely to change and once your kids are hooked, well it gets harder to say no.

There are ways you can make it more affordable, revamp your budget, and sacrifice in other areas.  Just make sure you are shelling out your hard earned dollars for the right reasons.

See the little boy in the picture above, he is smiling through his mouth guard, for me that smile is priceless!!

Have you gone into debt over youth sports for your kids?

About Suzanne Cramer

12 Responses to “Youth Sports: Are They Worth the Expense?”

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  1. This is a very timely article as the summer baseball season gets underway. I have definitely seen parents who think their kids is the next “big” thing over the years…..fortunately for me, I don’t see much of it anymore. In my city, kids can either tryout for the “Traveling team” – which travels around the state of MN every weekend for the first two months of the summer playing in tournaments, or they can play in the “House” league which is all inter-city team play. Traveling is super expensive, and I a.) refuse to pay over $1000 in fees, equipment, and hotel costs b.) not willing to / cannot give up weekends for June and July. Most of “those” parents/kids play traveling.

    Its expensive enough playing “house” league. $125 just to register, then you have to provide your own equipment too. Oh, and pictures…..because what self respecting parent wouldn’t want a yearly memory of their kid playing sports, right?

    I do think it’s worth it, though….they learn discipline, teamwork, and social skills. Plus, I love watching Tristan play baseball…..he’s better than I ever was – but I have no grand illusions of him ever being “pro.” He’s just a kid having fun.

    Last night his teammates were messing around during practice just a little too much. There was trash talking, inappropriate language, and and two of the kids even got into a physical confrontation. I couldn’t believe it……never seen a practice get out of control like that before. What was Tristan doing during this practice? Going about his business, practicing hard, working on his game.

    The coaches even joked with him after practice telling him he was a trouble maker and if he said one more word they’d kick him off the team. He just smiled, and packed up his stuff.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of him. That’s MY son.

    I can’t remember a time

  2. Oh yes… the pictures, almost forgot about those! I fell for that trap about twice until I realized I could get the same “team” shot and pics of my kid by standing behind the photographer 🙂

    Good for Tristan…he is there for the right reasons! And good for you for standing up to the decision not to play travel–I know I won’t be able to afford it when the time rolls around. Lucky for me Ethan plays so many different sports that he likes he is busy year round and won’t have time to commit to travel.

    His favorite sport until this point has been wrestling and lucky for me this is the cheapest!! He wrestles from mid-October until the end of March for a reg fee of $65 not bad! I have no equipment as they supply his singlet and sweats, all I have to buy are wrestling shoes. There are tournaments almost every weekend somewhere but they aren’t mandatory and you can register for as many or as few as you like for about $15 each.
    Football and Lax are quite a bit more expensive but I take every opportunity to save where I can.

  3. Petunia 100 says:

    I think sports are definately worth it, assuming you have discretionary funds. Should you skip paying the electric bill in order to pay for sports? No. Should you go into debt in order to pay for sports? No. Should you cut back on optional things in order to pay for sports? Yes. Helping your child grow and develop is part of being a parent.

    That said, I would pass on the $1,000 league too. 🙂

  4. Youth sports are well worth the expense if done for the right reasons – fun, the child actually likes (or wants to try) the sport, friendships, exercise – all that stuff you mentioned. But these days it can get pretty expensive, so you need to use a little common sense too. There are lots of ways to buy used sporting equipment to cut down the costs. And if money is really tight, lots of youth sports leagues will waive or reduce fees for legit reasons. And don’t feel like doing 2 sports, glee club, dance, and guitar lessons all at the same time is a good idea, financial or otherwise!

  5. Glen Craig says:

    My son just started t-ball. They don’t even keep score and you see overzealous parents. But the kids have fun and my son is really excited about playing.

    There definitely is a bit of keeping up with Jones’ in that sports become a big way for the kids to socialize. We discovered this with our oldest when we moved to the ‘burbs.

    And the fact that going pro is rare I think misses out on a big reason to take sports seriously – college scholarships. Being recruited to a college team can save you a lot in tuition costs.

    But sports can certainly be expensive with leagues, equipment, camps…time…

    But in the end your child has to love going. If they don’t love it then you move on. There’s really nothing sadder tan seeing a kid being forced to play something when they don’t want to be there.

  6. The parents at a lot of my son’s events are literally out of control. In fact we actually have what are called “side line parents” at my sons Lax games. I of course somehow was volunteered for the position and my role is to “blue card” any parents that get out of control; yelling at the ref, using profanity, etc. It’s pretty sad but I actually had to use the card last weekend and these kids are U9.

    Scholorships are a great way to help fund college and I think it is important for kids with talent to take advantage however, not at the expense of pushing them too hard or making them do something they dont want to do.

    Sports should be fun and educational for the kids and if they are superstars and get scholorships…Awesome!

  7. This is a great article and you make some fantastic points. Affordability and putting your child in sports for the right reasons are key!

    I must say now being an adult and watching my single mom bring my brother and I all over the place to participate in various sports, I must say I love her more for getting us so involved. I will mention I never once remember her arguing with the coach or pressuring us to keep going if we didn’t want to.

    • You gain a whole new perspective for your parents after you have you own children 🙂
      My parents never pressured me to participate in anything I didn’t want to, but they did make me practice…alot!

  8. Jason Price says:

    Great points in this post! I especially appreciate how you point out the financial commitment from the parent and the commitment from the child to participate once they sign up. Overall, I think sports are great for children as long as it’s not overdone and with the right intentions as you stated. I grew up playing soccer and it taught me so much more than the game of soccer. I hope to encourage my kids to play sports and provide them the opportunity to learn about teamwork, responsibility, hard work and so many other great things they can apply to their lives. But, I also know I have to do that with financial common sense, so it may require saying no to some activities as well.

    • @Jason It is definitely hard to say no to your kids when it comes to activities they want to participate in. Telling my son no is something that is tough for me to do, but my budget and time can only be stretched so thin 🙂

  9. Balance. That’s the word to remember when getting kids involved in things that cost. Check out my tips for saving money in youth sports:

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