Youth sports have been the cornerstone of communities worldwide.
From Little League to soccer teams, youth sports participation has many benefits, like teaching life skills and building friendships. And even bringing communities closer together during weekend games and tournaments.
Yet, beneath the cheers, there’s a big concern: the rising costs associated with youth sports. According to the Aspen Institute’s latest youth sports survey, the average family pays $883 annually for one child’s primary sport.
While that number is down 6% from pre-pandemic costs, things like travel and registration have gotten more expensive. So much that some families are reducing the number of seasons, leagues, or sports their kids play in a given year.
As someone who grew up playing youth sports (ice hockey, baseball, and volleyball were my jam), that’s hard for me to read. Those experiences shaped who I am today and have resulted in many lifelong friendships with people whose kids I now call niece and nephew.
In this guide, we will dive into the costs of youth sports participation. Plus, offer a few ways to manage and reduce them so more youth athletes can join your league this season.
Direct costs of participation
Every sport has a different cost. As of Fall 2022, Project Play found the average annual cost for a child playing soccer was $1,188. Baseball, on the other hand, was $714. The thing is, they all have a pay-to-play model that impacts whether a kid can play or not.
Let’s look at some of the common costs associated with kids’ sports in general. Remember, these costs can vary depending on sport, region, and level of competition.
For example, playing an expensive sport like ice hockey in California will cost much more than participating in a gymnastics club in New York.
Parents pay these fees so their kids can take part in a particular sports season. They usually cover basic operating expenses for the youth sports league.
💸 Average cost: $50 to $400 per season, depending on the sport and location.
Teams that compete in tournaments usually have to pay to enter.
💸 Average cost: $100 to $600 per tournament, again dependent on sport and level of competition.
Equipment and gear
Sport-specific equipment (e.g., bats, balls, gloves)
Think about the basics for a sport, like cleats and a bat for baseball, or gloves for a soccer goalie.
💸 Average cost: $20 to $500. A soccer ball, for example, can cost about $20. A good pair of hockey skates might run parents around $150. A good composite stick can run north of $100.
Protective gear (e.g., helmets, shin guards)
Safety first! Items like helmets for football or shin guards for soccer fall under this category.
💸 Average cost: $20 to $250.
Costs of replacing gear as kids grow or items wear out
Young athletes grow and gear gets old. Parents often have to buy new equipment every season or two.
💸 Average cost: Varies widely, but expect to spend about 50% of the original equipment costs every year or two.
Uniforms and team apparel
Initial purchase vs. yearly replacement
The first-time purchase of a uniform set and then the cost of replacing parts of it every year.
💸 Average cost: An initial full uniform might be $50 to $200. Yearly replacements, like a jersey or pants, can be $20 to $100.
Costs of branded team apparel
This category includes team jackets, hats, or other apparel.
💸 Average cost: $20 to $150, depending on the item. A hat might be $20, while a quality team jacket could be $100 or more.
Training and coaching
Aspen Institute's parent survey found that roughly 15% of parents are paying more for better coaching. One-on-one training with a specialized coach can get expensive quickly.
💸 Average cost: Between $30 and $100 an hour.
Skills clinics and camps
Specialized training camps during off-season are also a cost of youth sports.
💸 Average cost: $100 to $500 for a week-long camp or clinic.
Travel and transportation
Costs of getting to local games and practices.
💸 Average cost: This largely depends on vehicle type and distance, but consider $5 to $20 per trip when accounting for gas and wear-and-tear.
Consider the costs of staying overnight in another city or state for a game or tournament. These costs add up quick if kids are playing on a travel team versus a recreational sports league.
💸 Average cost: $200 to $1,000 per trip. This can include hotel stays ($50 to $200 per night), meals ($10 to $50 per meal), and possibly flights ($100 to $500 round trip).
Youth sports isn't just a financial investment. It's a commitment of time, energy, and often emotional investment too.
Parents are heavily involved in youth sports. They juggle schedules to attend games, show up for practices, and join team or league meetings to support their kid's involvement and stay informed.
Fundraising and volunteering
Teams often need to raise money to cover various sports expenses. It takes time and effort for parents and kids to organize bake sales, car washes, and sell items, and sometimes, they'll even contribute money directly if fundraising goals still need to be met.
Why parents invest in youth sports
It’s clear that youth sports costs a pretty penny, whether parents are paying for lacrosse or softball. So, what are some motivations for them to invest in team sports for their kids?
- Physical activity and health. Kids build habits for a healthier future by participating in youth sports. Practicing and playing sports helps them build stamina, coordination, and reduce risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
- Skill development. Many life skills are learned through youth sports: teamwork fosters collaboration, leadership opportunities arise, time management becomes crucial with a packed schedule, and discipline is honed with practice.
- Social and emotional growth. The sports arena is a great place to make lifelong friends, and it's great to share victories and defeats. Also, competition helps kids learn emotional intelligence, self-esteem, and resilience.
- Scholarships and future opportunities. Youth sports can sometimes lead to college scholarships, easing college financial burdens. A background in sports can also open doors to various career opportunities, including coaching and sports management, journalism, and physiotherapy.
According to an American Journal of Public Health study, kids who practiced social skills during play graduated from high school and college more often.
Tips to manage and reduce youth sports costs
One study found that 60% of parents say youth sports are a ‘financial strain’. Here are some ways you can help them overcome the costs.
Recommend used or shared equipment
Second-hand stores and community swaps are great places to find sports equipment for a good price. This not only saves money, but also promotes sustainability.
There are lots of grant programs that support youth sports and alleviate costs for families and teams. By researching and applying for them, you can secure funds that ensure all players get to play.
Companies often sponsor youth sports teams in exchange for advertising opportunities, like their logo on jerseys or on their sports website. By approaching these businesses with a clear proposal, you can get financial support while offering exposure to sponsors.
Fundraise for the team
You can raise funds by holding fundraisers like bake sales, car washes, or merchandise sales. These events support the team financially and build team spirit by getting everyone together.
Reduce travel costs
Teams can save a lot of money on travel expenses by carpooling to games, choosing local tournaments instead of distant ones, or even negotiating group rates on accommodations. Making travel more manageable is possible if parents plan and communicate well.
Your goal is to make children’s sports more affordable, so young athletes can play and learn without being hindered by costs.
Running your league with Jersey Watch
There's more to youth sports than games. They're transformative experiences. A young athlete's journey comes with a lot of costs, both direct and indirect. But it's important to consider these costs as investments in their future, growth, and health.
Using some of the tips above, from seeking sponsorships to getting grants, you can mitigate some of the costs and get more kids on the field, rink, court, or wherever your youth sports organization operates.
If you want to save time managing your team or club, try Jersey Watch for free today. From registration to communication tools and background checks, you get all the sports management tools you need to take your organization to the next level.