Costs of Extracurricular Activities
Do you have a list like this one?
Refundable equipment fee: $35
Required fundraising event: $35
More required fundraising: $40
End of season party: $15
Gift for coach: $10
Or maybe this one
Figure Skating Club: $225
Required volunteer hours: $10
Required fundraising: $40
Group lessons for eight weeks: $100
Skates and clothing: $400
And that doesn't even include the gas to run them back and forth, the time spent doing your required volunteer hours or the friends you've alienated trying to sell them candy bars or coupon books! If it seems like our children's activities are getting more and more expensive and time consuming with every passing year – it's because they are. Many families have found that sports have become a luxury they can't afford.
Paying for Fun
For Teresa Bondora-Revere, a homeschooling mother of two from Mobile, Ala., organized children's sports are out of reach for their one-income family, especially when you include the enrollment fees, equipment fees, uniforms, etc. "It winds up being a costly experiment to see if this is what your child wants to do," says Bondora-Revere. "And that doesn't count the gas for traveling there and back several times a week and any doctor visits for the physical or injury treatment."
Other families, such as the Hoelzlis from Thamesford, Ontario, Canada, know going in the sport is going to be costly. The Hoelzlis have two sons playing hockey, one of the most expensive sports your child can play. With registration running from $300 to $450 and equipment costing from $200 to $400 a year, many parents can't even pretend to afford it.
Paul and Kim Hoelzli both play hockey as well and were not only aware of the cost of the sport, but understand it. "A few years ago, fees went up and parents complained that hockey was becoming an elitist sport," says Kim Hoelzli. "Well, it's always been an elitist sport, and we're lucky because our fees are still lower than a lot of centers. There is more equipment involved in hockey than any other sport, and it requires renting a facility to play in. With the recent rise in litigation in hockey, insurance rates have also skyrocketed."
Jim Caruso, chairperson of Future Stars Soccer Academy, Inc. in Atlanta, Ga., believes there are a myriad of reasons why children's sports can be more expensive. "I believe that the options for youth sports are much greater and parents are enabling a higher level of training, play, equipment and competition than ever before, and that in itself is more expensive," says Caruso.
One of the main expenses sports organizations and centers deal with is insurance. After that, the organization has to find a place to play if it isn't affiliated with a center. "There are no sand lots where we can just go play with the neighborhood kids as we or our parents might have done," says Caruso. "Field space is limited, and often, gaining access to playing field or practice space costs money."
Coaching and training have become more serious for select or travel teams. Most of the time these teams have professional coaches rather than parent volunteers, which adds to the over all cost. Travel costs can also boost up the expense, leaving parents feeling like their child's sport is a bottomless money pit.
Now the Good News
Even so, the benefits to a child active in sports far outweigh the expense. Mike Silverman, director of sports for the City Parks Foundation in New York City, believes that all children should have a chance to play sports. The City Parks Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that offers park programs throughout New York's five boroughs. Silverman oversees free or low-cost sports programs in over 50 New York City parks that reach approximately 12,000 children each year. They offer instruction in three primary sports: tennis, golf and track and field. Silverman has seen firsthand how sports can impact a child's life.
"Sports provide a wide variety of physical, social and psychological benefits for children," says Silverman. "Benefits include helping children develop motor skills, making new friends, getting exercise, learning teamwork and social skills, understanding fair play and sportsmanship and improving self-esteem."
Childhood obesity due to inactivity is on the rise, and sports offer kids a critical outlet to combat this growing trend through participation in regular activity. But how can parents, especially those who may have more than one child, afford organized sports?
"In general, introductory sports are less expensive than more advanced training, which usually demands more personal attention, which leads to more cost," says Silverman. "Assuming parents seek out qualified instructors, there is no need for them to pay for expensive introductory programs for their kids, although many do."
Are We Having Fun Yet?
The key question to ask in the beginning is: Are they having fun? Large classes are often viewed as a negative, when in reality, if structured properly, large groups offer kids a chance to make more friends, feel less individual pressure to perform and have a lot of fun.
Here are a few other tips to help you save money on your child's sport experience. Remember, you can cut corners and still offer your child the same benefits that come from playing an organized sport.
- Stay in a recreational program until your child is older. The longer you put off private or semi-private professional training, the better on your pocket book!
- Your child doesn't have to have the best equipment available right off the bat. There is no reason to pay $500 for a pair of professional-quality figure skates for the beginning skater when you can get a used pair at a far more reasonable price. Expensive mesh jerseys are nice, but a cotton T-shirt will do. Play It Again Sports and Goodwill stores often have perfectly safe equipment for far less than it would be new.
- Get to know the coach or instructor, and find out if there are things you can do in trade for some of the fees. For instance, some parents work part-time at their child's ice skating rink in trade for ice time or lessons. Be open to opportunities like this.
- The YMCA or your local parks department often offers sports programs for reasonable rates.
- Steer your child toward less expensive sports such as recreational level basketball, swimming or track.
"I think part of the problem with the cost of sports is parents," says Kim Hoelzli. "There are parents that want the kids to have all the extras. It's nice to have matching jackets, but I don't think it improves the experience of playing. Somehow, the focus has become less about the kids' experience of playing and more about the experience of the 'fan' or the parent. Some parents want their kids to win, and they will pay anything to get that. I don't see the fun in that."
And isn't having fun the point of children's sports?