Youth sports have never been more popular and with the tremendous explosion in popularity there comes a price. Anyone who has a child in youth sports these days, especially if it’s a club or travel team will agree that the multitude of associated costs can sometimes strain a family budget. Whether your child plays baseball, basketball, soccer, rugby, lacrosse or any other sport, the dollar signs start to add up fast when you factor in league or tournament fees, equipment, uniforms, travel, meals, training, etc. Plus, when sports can now sometimes run year round instead of just seasonally, there seems to be no end to the contributions a parent must make to keep their child’s burgeoning athletic career in motion. By some estimates, the average sports family spends over $2,000 a year in sports related costs alone! That is some serious cash, so any way you can possibly to make your money go further would probably be of interest.
As the head of an AAU Basketball program, one thing I always try to be cognizant of is to keep expenses down for the families, as I don’t want the cost to be an impediment to a child being able to participate in the program. We run a family-oriented program with the goal of giving every player a chance to contribute to our organization’s success and to learn valuable life lessons through the sport of Basketball. However, as with any competitive travel team, there are expenses that accrue which are mostly covered by the athletes’ parents. For that reason, we try to do everything we can to minimize the costs, while maximizing the value to our players and I think many programs strive to do that as well so that we can focus on the most important thing: the kids.
With that being said, here are some practical tips you can apply to your child’s given sport or passion to help keep your expenses down without sacrificing their ability to participate or enjoy in the fun.
1) ENSURE YOUR PLAYER’S COMMITMENT
Is the money you will be paying out well worth it? Have a frank discussion with your child beforehand to gauge their level of interest. It can be very frustrating for a parent to commit financial resources out front, only to find their child’s interest waning or low level of commitment.
2) GET YOUR PLAYER TO CONTRIBUTE
Depending on your player’s age, you may want to have them contribute to their sport’s expenses. Or maybe agree upon extra chores or things the athlete can do as a way to show how much they appreciate and want to help out in pursuit of something they love and benefit from.
3) TRY A REC OR COMMUNITY LEAGUE FIRST
Is this your child’s first time trying a sport? Instead of going all out with a club or travel team where the fees and costs are generally higher, why not see how much your child enjoys the sport first by engaging at a lower level like those offered by community or recreation programs. Normally these are less intense programs that give your young athlete a chance to learn the basics and get their feet wet, while also costing only a fraction of what higher-level leagues and programs require.
4) PURCHASE USED SPORTS EQUIPMENT
Kids grow fast and sometimes can quickly outgrow supplementary equipment or gear. These days there are a lot of businesses that offer sales of used or secondhand equipment like Play It Again Sports. Craigslist is also a great resource to find great deals. Keep equipment expenses minimal until you are sure that your child is serious about pursuing this sport or activity. As an aside, never skimp or go cheap when it comes to things that enhance your child’s safety such as helmets, padding, etc. Those types of things are well worth the cost in terms of peace of mind and injury prevention.
5) SELL YOUR OWN USED EQUIPMENT
The flip side of this is to sell your own used sports equipment. Once your player has outgrown it, the likely result is it will end up taking space in your garage or storage unit. Instead, clear out that space and generate some returns on your initial investment to put forward to future sports equipment purchases.
6) PLAN MEALS OR SNACKS IN ADVANCE
If your child is playing a travel sport that requires long weekends of tournament games, you might find yourself on the road a lot, and thus is a situation where you are forced to eat out quite frequently. These meals can add up quickly. To keep costs down in this area, prepare meals and snacks ahead of time that you can take with you. Not only will this reduce your expenses, but it’s likely your child will end up eating healthier, more nutritious meals because of it. Better yet, you may want to team up with other parents to prepare meals that the team can enjoy together.
7) LOOK FOR VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Do you have an area of expertise that you can contribute to a team, perhaps as a coach or team parent? Many programs will reduce your costs or credit your player’s account the more you volunteer in return to help out the program. Not only is this a great way to cut your costs, but it shows an example to your children about how committed you are to their passion.
8) ORGANIZE A FUNDRAISER
Our team has run many different types of these events, not only to keep costs down for the team in general, but also to create a sponsorship fund for kids who come from situations that would not be able to play otherwise. This year in fact we organized a team car wash. Every player was given ten tickets to sell to family, friends, acquaintances, etc. Plus if you have a great location mapped out you’ll get a lot of drive-by customers who will need the service or just look to help out kids in the community. On the day of the event, every family showed up to help with different aspects. Not only did this help raise a lot of money for our program, but it also was a great way for the players to bond and to give back to the program.
9) PLAN AHEAD ON TRAVEL EVENTS
When it comes to team travel costs, plan ahead and look for group discounts. With our own team, we have a designated parent who hunts down the best deals when it comes to hotels, airfare, team events, etc. Hotels will often offer tremendous room rates if they know you can bring a substantial group to their venue. We mainly focus on places that offer complimentary breakfasts. Not only is it easy and convenient, but it saves you the cost of a big meal for your team and ensures that they fill up on important nutrition to start the day. Additionally, when a team lodges in a common place, it helps with team bonding and activities.
10) COMMUTE AS A TEAM
Another terrific way to save on travel expenses is to commute with other families or players. Why drive ten cars to an event or tournament hours away when you can easily get away with six vehicles or less by pooling resources? Not only does this result in savings, but it is usually a much more enjoyable way for the players to travel.
While there are literally hundreds of ways parents can work to keep youth sports costs down, these are some of the best that have worked for our teams and many others. Just remember that this is an investment in your child. In some rare cases, sports may eventually offer a path to college scholarships or even lucrative careers. In every case though, youth sports can provide your child with a much needed opportunity to exercise and stay fit, gain skill and confidence, develop important life skills, learn to communicate and be part of a team, and more. With so many innumerable benefits, it is clear that your part in making these opportunities possible plays an important part of helping them grow into healthy, well-adjusted young adults.