The average baseball costs less than $5, and a bat costs about $20. While these may not sound like incredibly large expenses, they don’t come close to the costs that parents pay to enroll their kids in youth sports programs. In fact, families can spend up to 10.5% of their gross income on sports-related costs for their children. Youth sports isn’t just a game anymore—it’s grown into an industry worth more than $7 billion.
What are families spending on to rack up such tremendous expenses? Consider the average costs for the most popular youth sport in America: basketball. Start with the equipment. A pair of decent sneakers ranges between $50-$75 and a good ball costs $25 on average. Signing up for a season through a recreation department typically runs anywhere from $125-$300, bringing the costs of a single child for a single season to approximately $300.
However, once kids move on to travel or so-called “elite” leagues, they may be responsible for up to $2000 annually in team fees, uniforms, and specialized equipment, to say nothing of travel costs—which could include airfare, hotels, and meal costs—private coaches, or other high-end expenses to stay competitive at the most intensive levels. And remember that these are the costs for only one child who plays only one sport, so families with more than one child enrolled in sports or with a child who plays more than one sport may wind up paying even more.
There are also medical bills to think about if your child is injured while on the field, which is unfortunately becoming more and more common.
These rising costs of athletics are actually placing youth sports out of reach for children from low-income families. A 2014 survey from the University of Florida noted that while 67% of children from families with an income of $100,000 or more were involved in team sports, only 38% of children from families with incomes of $25,000 or less were involved in team sports, meaning that countless children are losing out on opportunities to enjoy youth sports—which could help them to develop healthy habits, build character, make friends, and more—because they are simply too expensive.
There isn’t a clear cut explanation as to the surging costs of youth sports. Is it because children are being pushed to specialize in a given sport at a younger and younger age? Is it because parents want their children to make it to college on athletic scholarships or to the big leagues and they’re willing to pay more to give their sons and daughters a leg up on the competition? Whatever the reason may be, the one thing that’s clear is that the rising costs of youth sports are forcing children out of the game—and that’s a loss for everyone.