Savings for Youth Sports: How to Pay So Your Kids Can Play

Savings for Youth Sports: How to Pay So Your Kids Can Play

Youth sports can be excellent character building activities for children. They instill teamwork, communication, and discipline – which can pay off later in life. Besides the physical benefits, children who exercise can also reduce stress, increase cognitive skills, and create better emotional well-being, according to the US Department of Health.

However, participation in these activities often comes at a high price. The sport can cost anywhere from $191 per year (for track and field) to $2,583 per year (for ice hockey). And with inflation at its highest level in 40 years, that cost is increasing. Wintergreen Research predicts that the youth sports industry will grow to $77.6 billion by 2026, from $24.9 billion in 2019.

Our guide to savings for youth sports will help you recognize the costs involved and plan for those expenses before they become unbearable for your finances.

The cost of youth sports varies by sport. Expenses can include registration fees, equipment, camps, tutoring, and travel. Travel, in particular, can be more expensive when you factor in fuel or air travel, hotel, meals, and other items. Travel costs average about $196 per sport, according to Project Play, a 2019 research initiative by the Aspen Institute to track youth participation and costs in sports. This amount can vary greatly for each sport, with the average travel cost for field hockey, for example, $934.

Project Play estimates that sports families spend an average of $693 per sport and per child each year. Their study also provides averages for different types of sports. Swimming, for example, costs an average of $786 per year, while skiing is $2,249 per year. According to this data, a child who is skating and swimming will collect $3,035 in costs per year

The chart below shows the annual costs of the five most expensive sports.

Key stats for youth sports expenditures:

  • Traveling is the most expensive sports cost for the average youth ($196 annually), followed by equipment ($144) and tutoring ($134). (play project)
  • Sports that families are most likely to not be able to afford are skateboarding and cycling, with 38 percent of parents reporting spending no money on skiing and 33 percent not spending any money on cycling. (play project)
  • From children 6 to 12 years oldOnly 24 percent of those with household incomes of $25,000 or less exercised regularly, compared to 43 percent of those with household incomes of $100,000 or more. (State of Play 2021 report from the Aspen Institute)
  • 37% of male children participated in youth sportsWhile 30% of females did. (playing case)
  • The sport with the highest participation rate in 2020 was cycling, where 18.2% of children aged 6-12 years participated, followed by basketball with a participation rate of 14.8%). (playing case)
  • From 2019 to 2020The sport that experienced the largest drop in participation was swimming (-23.6%). Meanwhile, tennis saw the largest increase in participation (37.7 percent). (playing case)
  • The three states with the highest reported sports participation rate among 6- to 17-year-olds are North Dakota (67.4 percent), Vermont (66 percent) and New Hampshire (65.8 percent). (National Children’s Health Survey 2019-2020)
  • The three states with the lowest reported sports participation rate for children ages 6 to 17 These are Louisiana (46 percent), New Mexico (46 percent), and Arizona (46.1 percent). (National Children’s Health Survey 2019-2020)
  • School work has been reported as the main reason Why kids aren’t exercising in polls in many areas, including Harlem, New York; Mobile County, Alabama; Seattle King County, Washington; and Hawaii. (Aspen Institute youth community surveys)
  • There is a gap in youth sports participation between low socioeconomic schools and high socioeconomic schools; 24.6 percent of eighth-grade students in lower socioeconomic schools play sports, compared to 36.1 percent in higher socioeconomic schools. (playing case)

  1. Open a savings account for sports expenses and contribute to it regularly. When shopping for a savings account, look for high savings rates, no minimum account balances and no or low monthly fees. Some savings accounts may also offer rewards that can contribute to a sports expense fund.
  2. Set up automatic transfers. There are many banking apps as well as third-party savings apps that can help automatically transfer money from account to savings account for you, such as Digit and Current. Even if you set up automatic transfers to save only $10 every two weeks, that’s still $260 saved per year.
  3. Take advantage of travel rewards. Many sports require regular travel, so it makes sense to earn rewards on these travel expenses. Travel credit cards can offer cashback or points redeemable for things like hotel stays, car rentals, flights, and dining. Just be sure to pay off the balances every month, so you can avoid interest charges.
  4. Check to see if there are fundraising opportunities. Some youth sports teams raise donations to help offset various costs of participation, including equipment and travel costs.
  5. Consider Low or Free Income Options. Organizations like Every Kid Sports and Kids Play USA Foundation work with low-income families, providing them with resources so their kids can play. Local organizations, such as the YMCA, may offer opportunities to help.
  6. Encourage your child to take a summer job. Car washing, dog walking or babysitting for the last few months can be a way for your child to learn more about money management while also motivating them to save for sports.

Even with the fundraising options and low cost, you can still potentially pay some out-of-pocket expenses for youth sports. However, knowing the costs in advance and preparing a budget can make these expenses easier.

Here are some ways to balance the costs of youth sports:

  1. Factor costs into your savings goal. Consider creating a separate line item in the budget to provide for various expenses for youth sports, including participation fees, camps, uniforms, equipment, and travel fees.
  2. Anticipate costs that can arise at different times throughout the season. For example, you may have to pay equipment and registration fees at the beginning of the season, after which you will have to pay specific travel expenses as the season progresses. Knowing upcoming expenses can help you save early.
  3. Cut costs by buying used sports equipment. Equipment can be some of the most expensive for youth sports – and one of the biggest areas you can save. Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or retailers like Play It Again Sports Are some places to use the equipment (and the cheapest).
  4. Gather resources together to save money. Taking the kids to local games or getting a group hotel rate can reduce fuel and travel expenses.
  5. Look for volunteer opportunities within the sports organization. By volunteering, you can reduce or eliminate the participation fee.
  6. Register as soon as possible. Many sports organizations offer discounts when registering for games and tournaments early.

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With inflation rising and youth sports already becoming expensive, it’s important to know what to expect when paying for your child’s sports participation so you can prepare early.

Some of the ways to reduce the burden of these costs include budgeting, raising funds, and looking for low-cost alternatives. Consider opening a savings account and contributing to it regularly. Then, you can set up a fund for sports expenses while also earning some benefits.

– The original version of this story was written by Sean Jackson.

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