Youth sports can be excellent character-building activities for children. They teach teamwork, communication and discipline – which can pay dividends later in life. In addition to the physical benefits, children who exercise can also reduce stress, improve cognitive skills, and create greater emotional well-being, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
However, participation in these activities often comes at a high price. Sports can cost anywhere from $191 per year (for athletics) to $2,583 per year (for ice hockey). And with inflation at its highest in 40 years, those costs are rising. Wintergreen Research predicts the youth sports industry will grow to $77.6 billion by 2026, from $24.9 billion in 2019.
Our guide to saving for youth sports will help you understand the costs involved and plan for those expenses before they become unsustainable for your finances.
youth sport costs
Youth sports costs vary depending on the sport. Expenditures may include registration fees, equipment, camps, private tuition and travel. Travel, in particular, can be the most expensive expense when you factor in fuel or flight, hotel, meals, and other items. According to Project Play, a 2019 Aspen Institute research initiative to track youth sports participation and costs, travel costs average around $196 per sport. This amount can vary widely depending on the sport, with the average field hockey travel cost being $934, for example.
Project Play estimates that sports families spend an average of $693 per sport per child each year. Their study also provides average values for different sports. For example, swimming costs an average of $786 per year, while skiing costs $2,249 per year. According to this data, a child enrolled in skiing and swimming would cost $3,035 in one year
The chart below shows the annual costs of the five most expensive sports.
Key figures on youth sports expenditure:
- Travel is, on average, the most expensive youth sports expense ($196 annually), followed by equipment ($144) and private tuition ($134). (project game)
- The sports that are most likely to be free for families are skateboarding and bicycling, with 38 percent of parents saying they don’t spend money on skateboarding and 33 percent say they don’t spend money on biking. (project game)
- By children aged 6-12, only 24 percent of those with household incomes of $25,000 or less exercised regularly, compared to 43 percent of those with household incomes of $100,000 or more. (Aspen Institute 2021 State of Play Report)
- 37 percent of male children took part in youth sports, while 30 percent of women did. (Game Status)
- The sport with the highest participation rate in 2020 was cycling, with 18.2 percent of children ages 6 to 12 participating, followed by basketball with a participation rate of 14.8 percent). (Game Status)
- From 2019 to 2020, the sport with the largest drop in participation was swimming (-23.6 percent). Tennis, on the other hand, recorded the largest increase (37.7 percent). (Game Status)
- The three states with the highest percentage of reported participation in sports among children ages 6 to 17 are North Dakota (67.4 percent), Vermont (66 percent), and New Hampshire (65.8 percent). (National Child Health Survey 2019-2020)
- The three states with the lowest percentages of reported participation in sports among children ages 6 to 17 are Louisiana (46 percent), New Mexico (46 percent), and Arizona (46.1 percent). (National Child Health Survey 2019-2020)
- School work was given as the main reason why children don’t exercise in polls in several regions including Harlem, New York; Mobile County, Alabama; Seattle-King County, Washington; and Hawaii. (Aspen Institute Community Youth Surveys)
- There is a gap in youth sport participation between schools with a low socio-economic level and schools with a high socio-economic level; 24.6 percent of eighth graders in the low socioeconomic status schools played sports, compared to 36.1 percent in the high socioeconomic status schools. (Game Status)
How to fund youth sport
- Open a savings account for sports expenses and fund it regularly. When buying a savings account, look for high savings rates, no minimum account balance, and no or low monthly fees. Some savings accounts may also offer bonuses that can add to a sports fund.
- Set up automatic transfers. There are several third party banking apps as well as savings apps that you can use to automatically transfer money from a checking account to a savings account, e.g. B. Digit and Current. Even if you set up automatic transfers to save just $10 every two weeks, that’s still $260 in a year.
- Enjoy travel rewards. Many sports require regular travel, so it makes sense to earn rewards for those travel expenses. Travel credit cards offer cashback or redeemable points for things like hotel stays, rental cars, flights, and restaurants. Just make sure you pay off the balances each month so you can avoid interest charges.
- Check whether there are funding opportunities. Some youth sports teams hold fundraisers to offset the various costs of participating, including equipment and travel expenses.
- Consider low-income or free options. Organizations like Every Kid Sports and the Kids Play USA Foundation work with low-income families and provide them with resources so their children can play. Local organizations such as the YMCA may also offer opportunities to help.
- Encourage your child to take a summer job. Washing cars, walking the dog, or babysitting in the off months could be a way for your child to learn more about money management while encouraging them to save for exercise.
How to cut costs and set a budget
Even with fundraising and lower-cost options, you’ll probably still have to pay for some youth sports expenses. However, knowing the costs upfront and creating a budget can make those expenses more manageable.
Here are some ways to budget for youth sports costs:
- Include sports costs in your savings goal. Consider creating a separate item in a budget to save for the various youth sports expenses, including attendance fees, camps, uniforms, equipment, and travel expenses.
- Expect costs that may arise at different times during the season. For example, you may need to pay equipment and registration fees early in the season and later in the season pay certain travel expenses. If you know what the costs are, you can save up front.
- Save costs by buying used sports equipment. Equipment can be one of the biggest costs in youth sport – and one of the biggest areas where you can make savings. Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or retailers like Play It Again Sports there are a few places where you can get used (and cheaper) gear.
- Pool resources to save money. Carpooling children to local games or obtaining a group hotel rate can reduce fuel and travel costs.
- Look for volunteer opportunities within the sports organization. By volunteering, you could reduce or eliminate the participation fee.
- Sign up as early as possible. Many sports organizations offer discounts if you register early for games and tournaments.
With inflation running high and youth sports already quite expensive, it’s important to know what to expect when paying for your child’s sports participation so you can prepare ahead of time.
Some ways to reduce the burden of these costs include creating a budget, raising funds, and finding low-cost alternatives. Consider opening a savings account and investing regularly. Then you can build a fund for sports expenses and earn interest at the same time.
— The original version of this story was written by Sean Jackson.