How much do Parents [really] spend on Youth Sports?

How much do parents spend each year on youth sports participation for their kids?  Hundreds? How about thousands. One family in Cincinnati spent $11,704 on sports equipment, uniforms, participation fees, lessons and sports related travel costs. The sports dad of this family of three, began to track the family’s youth sports related expenditures, not in order to cut back or trim costs, but more out of curiosity.  The dad ended up publishing all his expenses on his blog StatsDad. The total for 2010 was $9,076 you can click here to get his detailed list of expenditures. This amount appears quite average for a family of 3 – after reviewing the list which appear to be typical expenses.

My idea for the following post is not to discourage parents from spending money on their kids’ sports, not at all, but to raise awareness so that family’s spend their resources on sports items and events that bring the most benefit and enjoyment.

Another sports dad [and sports writer] Mark Hyman, published a book recently, The most expensive game in Town to raise awareness on this very topic. It is an eye-opener. Not only does Hyman discuss what parents spend, but more to the point is the enormity of the business of youth sports.

One Mega $ Example: Round Rock Sports Complex
It’s difficult to determine just how much the entire industry of youth sports is worth within the United States. Yet one good example that illustrates the business of youth sport Hyman shares in his book, which is how some US cities have invested millions of dollars into sports complexes to hold sports tournaments that draw youth teams from all over the US. Case in point is the City of Round Rock, Texas which invested over $19 million of ‘improvements’ to a local park, funded by tax payers and user fees. This complex has over 20 fields dedicated to youth baseball, soccer and football. Since tax payers are on the hook for the bill of the complex, there is pressure for the fields to make money, which means the city is pressured to ‘market’ and promote the use of the field.

What does this mean for Kids and Families?
Before I comment on the implications of Round Rock,  I’ll share the following quotes which I found on the city’s website,

  • “…a tournament the weekend of May 11 that drew 113 teams had an economic impact of nearly $600,000 on the local economy”
  • “Current field capacity is maximized with up to 57 hours of play per week per field.”
  • “Some [negative] comments we have heard are late games for youth that end after 10 pm …compressed schedules”
  • “The tournaments that draw teams from out of town provide a significant economic benefit to the community. The Sports Capital of Texas tourism campaign is an important component of the City’s overall economic development program.”

The implications are pretty clear – the sports complex is about business and dollars, not about the kids. Why are kids playing after 10 pm at night (which I hope would not be a school night)?  I’ll summarize this discussion with an excellent quote from sports sociologist, Jay Coakley, author and professor emeritus at University of Colorado,

“Any time the livelihood of adults depends upon kids doing certain thinking in sports, there is potential for abuse.”

What can parents do?
There are many reasons why parents want their kids to play sports: to have fun, to develop skills, to learn about competing and sportsmanship to name just a few. Competition is good for kids, and sports are entertaining and enjoyable to watch for the parents – who doesn’t love a nail-biting game that is tied in the 9th inning, or a swim relay that has 3 tied swimmers on the last lap? Yet as we’ve seen, there is culture of sports commercialization enticing us to spend more and more. At one time I was sucked into this commercialization and spent far too much money on things that didn’t matter. Thankfully, I came to my senses. Once I became aware and asked my kids what ‘they’ wanted to do, and posed the question of ‘why’, was our family able to make better decisions. There is an excellent blog post by StatsDad (link below) which gives insight into a typical sports expense, pitching lessons for his son. Does StatsDad spend the money? Yes – but he does with mindful awareness about why.

Further Reading:
Blog Post: “Youth Baseball: Are private lessons worth the money?” StatsDad

Hyman, Mark. The Most Expensive Game In Town: The Rising cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families. (2012)

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