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Cost of youth sports can be staggering

Two youth soccer teams square off in a recent match.
Two youth soccer teams square off in a recent match.
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For many families the costs associated with supporting their children as they work their way through the progression of recreational, school and club sports can be staggering. In the beginning, at the age of five or six, the costs are low, usually just a few dollars for a jersey, a pair of socks, appropriate shoes and maybe a glove and bat.They will play a modest schedule at the local field or park and aside from maybe some orange slices and juice boxes supplied in turn by the parents, there is virtually no additional cost.

But when the young athletes reach the age of nine or 10 they may begin to show interest in playing on a community travel or club team and that's where the costs can begin to soar, particularly if there is more than one child involved. Yes, the players are usually better and so is the quality of competition, but parents must be prepared to face a new way of thinking about  their child's sport.

Many community travel and club teams are incorporated as not-for-proft entities and solicit donations from local businesses. The tax exempt status allows businesses who make contributions to declare them as charitable contributions for tax purposes and those contributions can help defray costs incurred in playing out of town. Teams may also sell tickets to fundraisers, with each player responsible for selling a certain number of tickets. Door to door sales of candy bars and magazines have always been a popular way to raise money as well. The truth of the matter is that when all of the donations and ticket sales are added together only a small portion of team expenses such as tournament fees are lessened. The rest has to come out of the families' pockets, and although local hotels will provide discounted rates to teams, each family will need to be prepared to spend a considerable amount of money. For many, traveling to a tournament becomes the family vacation.

Tournament travel is really just the icing on the cake when it comes to expenses. Player fees, which will include uniforms, insurance and off season training can be anywhere from $500 to $2000 per player per year. Individual lessons with a professional instructor will run about $60 per hour and equipment, depending on sport and position, can be cost prohibitive. For example, a catcher on a Connie Mack baseball team may very well have the following in his equipment bag: mask, chest protector and leg guards, $500; 2 catcher's mitts, $500; metal bat, $400; 2 wood bats, $200; 2 pairs shoes $200. Include the bag itself, batting gloves, protective undergear, batting helmet and other sundries it isn't uncommon to see a 17 year old walking around with $2500 worth of equipment, some of which has to be replaced every couple of seasons.

Having a child involved in activities like sports certainly has many positives. They learn to make friends, handle themselves in pressure situations, work as a team and carry themselves with self-confidence. Additionally, parents develop deeper and stronger relationships with their children and the family unit spends a lot of quality time together. However, youth sports is big business and families should be aware of the financial commitment before jumping in with both feet. It could save money in the long run.