The cost of youth sports is out of control
Youth sports is often a full family commitment that sacrifices other interests and opportunities, and costs can be a strong burden on parent’s pockets, no matter which sport their kids practice. Janine Boldin’s daughter was a cheerleader, she was 8 years old and was practising five days a week when Janine decided it just might not be worth it. Here is her story.
I am not the first parent to wander into the world of today’s youth sports only to be kicked out the other end, years later, with much emptier pockets and lots of questions. But I am doing something that seems a little crazy to my fellow sport and team parents: My family is taking a step back from the world of all-star athletics.
Today, many youth teams consume time and money in a way that opens sports parents up to the criticism of many, or at least anyone who is not freezing on the sidelines in February or ringing a monogrammed cowbell in an auditorium. We are the “race to nowhere” parents, and “I’m worried they’ll miss out,” is our mantra. Truth is, I got caught up in it when we decided to do all-star cheer.
Having done travel soccer for a few years with one of my sons, all-star cheer wasn’t very different. There were extra practices. Specializing. The stress of “performing.” The travel. And the money. Add in hair bows and auditoriums instead of cleats and fields, and it was pretty much the same as any other “competitive” sport.
When we started cheer, I thought I was cultivating an interest that would also provide an athletic outlet — but it didn’t stay that simple. Twice a week practices turned into four to five days a week of practice and half-hour private lessons at $25 a pop. When the team added in extra stunts, we would spend almost every night with added extra time at home, perfecting things to be performed that upcoming weekend.
I found myself mostly talking to my daughter about cheer, what she needed to work on, what practices were coming up and whatever competition was next on the calendar. On the walk home from the bus, she’d pass friends asking her to play — only to be told she had to go to practice. With often only me to drive, my other kids would have to miss opportunities so I could take their sister to the gym.
Family vacations were now trips to competitions. And while they were enjoyable for her and often me, they were not where our entire family wanted to spend their time. With each year came heftier bills from uniforms, privates, competition fees and travel expenses. It was hard to keep a tally of how much it all cost, but what I did keep track of passed $5,000 per year. And that didn’t even include incidentals like rushed meals on the road or paying for sitters to sometimes drive her to practice.
“One day, she could get a scholarship,” was the saying that everyone used to brush aside the expense, but one day I realized we had probably spent as much on three years of cheer that one year of college would have cost. By the age of 15, we would have saved enough for her entire college education.
There was a lot of good. That’s why we kept going. This sport had given my daughter confidence by having to step out in front of hundreds of people to compete. She gained friends along with strength, and a love for team that she will probably never forget. But all of it came at a pretty hefty cost and, in the end, I realized the biggest price we were paying was the loss of her childhood.
Tired was a common refrain. So were heating pads. “How much does it hurt?” was said almost every night. A desire to try a musical instrument was put on hold because there wasn’t any extra time to fit in practices. When we tried basketball in the middle of the season, she was only able to make it half of the time, learning the lesson that it was okay to let another team down.
I remembered what one of my son’s coaches had told me a long time ago. He had lost his love for sports because of how much he felt all-consumed and pushed in the sport when he was young. By high school, he was burnt out. A talented athlete unable to enjoy what he loved because of all of the performing and pressure required to get to that point.
Why did the sport my daughter love have to come at such a cost? Was she Olympics bound? Were we beyond the days of being a high school athlete ensuring a collegiate sports experience?
Asking her if she wanted to keep going seemed silly since she was eight years old and caught up in an adult’s notion of youth sports. But one day she looked up at me after another practice and answered the question I had yet to ask.
“I really want to play with my friends more. I really want to try an instrument. I love cheer but…” The words drifted into the air.
But what if, what if, she could take a breath. A step back to try other things and get back time just to play. What if our family could get back dinners at night, conversations that didn’t focus on improving a stunt, and thousands of dollars back into our savings?
My daughter loves sports and doesn’t want to leave them, so we’ll look for teams that don’t require practice more than one or two times a week and nearby games. She will get to try an instrument and be able to say “yes” when friends ask to play.
I won’t lie, I have to push the “she’s missing out” mentality to the back of my mind. I worry that she won’t be able to keep up and “make the team.” But I try not to think about her losing skills, but try to focus on a different kind of work.
We’re working on getting back our time, where we talk less about back handsprings and more about if it’s warm enough for no jacket, and our vacations are where we all want to go, and she doesn’t have to keep saying “no” to stuff she wants to try. It’s not the decision everyone would make, but it works for us. Do I know how it will turn out? Nope. I don’t. But I didn’t know how it would have all turned out the other way either.
We support Janine’s decision here, one should listen to his child and try not to push him too hard just because we think something is best for their future. But if in any case kids decide to stay in the sport and pursue their dream to become a professional, there should be something done to relieve this huge financial burden their families carry. And here’s where SportyCo comes into the picture.
Source: Good Housekeeping