As youth sports continues to increase in popularity, so do the costs that go along with being just one of the team. Gone are the days of paying a small registration fee for a child to become part of an organization that teaches them more than how to field a ball or throw a perfect spiral.
Todd Tolson has been coaching youth football for Santee Ravens Pop Warner for seven years and has seen the registration costs go up more than $200 per child during that time.
“The prices just went up to $425 this season,” Tolson said.
According to the Ravens website, this fee is for tackle football. If your child is playing flag football the registration fee is $375 and if your child is cheerleading, expect to pay $505 if it’s their first year.
Denise Klinshaw has been on the board for the Santee Amateur Softball Association for three years and is in charge of candy sales. She also has two children in Santee ASA. Klinshaw said registration fees are currently $130, but remembers it being around $75 when her girls first joined.
“It’s expected that it’s gonna go up,” Klinshaw said, referring to parents having an understanding that fees will most likely increase the more years spent in any given league.
Santee Pop Warner and Santee ASA are both nonprofit organizations, which means all the money generated from registration fees, candy sales or fundraising go directly to the leagues. The board members, coaches, assistant coaches and team managers work as volunteers and do not receive a salary.
- Use of protective pads for Pop Warner (must be returned at the end of the season)
- Helmets for Pop Warner (must be returned at the end of the season)
- Game jersey
- Game field rental charges
- Practice field rental charges
- Field maintenance, including new dirt every year for softball
One reason football registration is more expensive than softball is because of the insurance football leagues are required to carry.
“Insurance is nuts these days, especially with all the talk about concussions and long-term affects,” Tolson said. “That has caused insurance costs to go up.”
For Santee ASA, Klinshaw said money from registration fees can also go toward one big purchase a year.
“Last year, it was the pitching machines,” Klinshaw said. “Two were stolen.”
Because of the theft, the league had to cover the cost to replace both machines. This year, Klinshaw said the league’s big purchase will probably be to upgrade the scoreboard. It hasn’t worked for almost two seasons because someone stole the copper wiring that runs the scoreboard and it has not worked since.
The registration fee covers some, but not all, of the cost to have a child play a regular season for a sport, both Klinshaw and Tolson said.
Some parents cannot afford to have their child play a youth sport, but most leagues offer scholarships to help with registration fees and parents can pay it back by contributing in other ways.
“Instead of working one snack-bar shift, you work two and you also have to sell two boxes of candy,” said Mary Jean Hickman, a single mother who has received a scholarship for her son Wayne at the Escondido American Little League for two seasons.
When Hickman joined EALL last year, she said she emailed the president and asked for assistance.
“I’m low-income,” Hickman said.
The season had already started, but the league not only allowed her son to join, but allowed him to join free of charge. Since Hickman had her fees waived again for this season, she wanted to do something else besides the extra requirements set by the league.
“I’m the team mom because I wanted to give back,” Hickman said.
Snack-bar shifts and selling candy are two things that are required of every parent who has a child in any given league, but there’s a caveat. Parents can buy their way out of the shifts and out of selling candy. For the busy parents who cannot commit to these requirements, they need to be prepared to write another check.
Youth sports are big business
According to the Census Bureau, from 1990 to 2009 purchases of sports and related recreational goods by individuals and nonprofit organizations increased 264 percent from $74 billion to $196 billion.
Some examples of equipment a parent should be ready to pay for are cleats, gloves and bats, and these are the bare minimum your child would need. Cleats range anywhere from $35 to $200 at a local sporting good store. Gloves cost around $30, however, softball bats and gloves can cost up to $400 each.
According to Klinshaw, the softball players are also responsible for their own helmets, which run anywhere from $19 to $100.
According to an article in Forbes magazine, youth sports has a $7 billion economic impact. Thirty-five million kids participate in youth sports and the costs associated with playing the game go well beyond purchasing equipment.
Instruction and teaching kids how to play the sport, and play it well, also comes with a price tag. When a family decides to enroll their child in a sport, the realization of how many checks need to be written may not fully resonate during the excitement of sign-up day.
Equipment now ranges from your standard bat and ball to equipment that provides instruction that can help your child be a star on the field. Virtual reality equipment has become a big seller and the money made by the corporations off these types of products is flowing in.
The iCube is one such example of VR technology that could give players an edge. One of its uses is to help players learn how to recognize different pitches while they’re at the plate. If they’ve seen the difference between a curve ball and a slider while using this device, they’ll be better equipped to handle the situation in real life. The Tampa Bay Rays and Major League Baseball just announced a partnership with EON Sports, the maker of the iCube, in April 2016 to begin using the technology.
This type of technology is becoming more affordable for athletes of all ages. According to the article, EON Sports sells the complete training simulation as part of a bundle package for $200.
This is just one example of the type of expenses that come up when families have children in youth sports, and with families on their own to purchase equipment needed for their child to play, parents can sign up their children for a sport without thinking what it really means for the budget.
Playing travel ball? Expect to pay more
When your child competes on a travel team, a whole new set of costs is incurred. Parents have to account for gas to get to the events, which can be hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. Hotel accommodations, food and extra maintenance for the vehicle driven to the games, all have to be part of the family budget.
Dell Bubar co-manages a youth travel softball team for the organization Power Surge. There are nine teams in the league, each with its own managers who are responsible for the monetary aspects of their individual team.
According to Dell, there isn’t just one registration fee paid up front, but instead, monthly dues are owed to the tune of $150 per month. Amateur softball seasons usually last about three-and-a-half months, but that is not the case with traveling teams.
“Travel ball is year-round,” Bubar said. “Right out of the pocket, the first month, it’s $650 to $700 a month just to start.”
This includes the first month’s dues, uniforms, equipment needed to play the game and special workout fees to have a defined program tailored to your child’s position. This workout is usually required as part of making the team.
The biggest expense that must be factored in when considering whether or not you want your child to play for a travel team is the cost of accommodations while you’re on the road.
“Two to three times a month you’re driving out of town,” Bubar said.
Kids learn more than how to play the game
Research shows the main reason kids play sports is because it’s fun, but what they’re learning goes well beyond knowing when to throw home or when to take a knee. They’re learning about sacrifice, commitment and what it means to be a team player.
“They learn friendships,” Klinshaw said. “They learn how to lose, how to be a good sport.”
Amanda Stanec, PhD, and a former board of directors member for Physical and Health Education, Canada, and founder of Move, Live, Learn, a consulting firm that “supports the sport, physical education and health sectors through a social justice lens,” published an article on five life lessons that children can learn from playing sports.
In addition to learning about commitment, Stanec also discusses how to communicate with players and coaches and how to handle the emotions of winning and losing and what kids can potentially take away from playing sports. Stanec also said in the article that learning to manage time effectively is another great way to teach kids about how to handle busy days.
“Every lesson that they learn on these fields are going to transfer to when they get older,” Klinshaw said.
According to Klinshaw, her daughters are also learning about friendships and thinks that particular aspect of having her kids play sports is important.
“It’s not always about winning or losing, but these girls have made friends and most of them will be friends for a really long time,” Klinshaw said. “And not only is it for the girls, I’ve made friends as a grown-up.”