Family Matters

Youth Sports Today

July 31, 2019

Back in the 70s and 80s there weren’t as many organized team sports. Schools, not city leagues or traveling teams, were the hub of youth sports. Most practices began after school and took place on campus, or very close-by. Kids even got to play different sports each season, not forcing one to pick a favorite at a young age.

Now, it seems, those times are long gone. Motivated in part by ambitious parents and in part by a sports and academic culture that pressures children to excel earlier, kids are flocking to team sports sooner. According to The Sports and Fitness Industry Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation, between 21.5 and 29 million American kids between the ages of six and 17 participate in organized sports.

The benefits of organized sports for kids are numerous. According to Science Daily:

  • Studies show that structured extracurricular sports help teens develop the discipline they need to engage effectively in academics.
  • A broad body of research also shows team sports can help concentration, have a positive effect on classroom behavior, and deliver special and psychological benefits including higher self-esteem, goal setting, and leadership.
  • Fit kids are also more likely to be fit adults.

However, according to John Engh, executive director of the National Alliance of Youth Sports, more and more, “Instead of focusing on having a good, quality program, the people running the leagues start to choose kids who can afford to pay for the tournaments.”

Nationwide, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that only a quarter of middle and high school students from lower income areas participate in sports, due largely to pay-to-play fees, transportation issues and equipment costs. In fact, these costs add up to a $15.3 billion industry that has nearly doubled in the last ten years, according to TIME Magazine.

A Utah State University study found:

  • Between league fees, camps, equipment, training and travel, families are spending as much as 10% of their income on sports
  • The average family spends $2,292 per year on sports
  • The maximum spending among respondents was close to $20,000 per year (travel and personal training)

According to a TD Ameritrade study in 2016, the typical parent spends between $100 and $500 per month on youth sports, but $1,000 per month per child is not unheard of.

And spending money on the sport itself is unfortunately not the only cost to consider. About 40% of emergency room visits for children ages 5 to 14 are for sports related injuries. The ER might not be the last stop either. Many injuries come with a prescription for physical therapy and sometimes even surgery.

Many parents will tell themselves they’re going through all this in the hopes that their kids might snag an athletic scholarship, but that’s not very realistic.

  • The NCAA estimates that only 3% of high school basketball players play in college. The percentage of high school basketball players who play professionally is less than 1%.
  • According to the publisher of
    • Just 2.3% of undergraduate students in bachelor’s degree programs received athletic scholarships, an average of roughly $12,000 per recipient.
    • Most parents would be better putting the money they currently spend on youth sports into a college savings plan

This is by no means an article on how not to involve your kids in sports, just a cautionary tale on ways to avoid having those sports take over your life. You can even prevent them from taking over your monthly salary with a few helpful suggestions from author Dave Ramsey:

  • Buy used equipment
  • Sell used equipment
  • Consider recreational leagues
  • Pick a sport (or two)
  • Be realistic

Most of all, remember, competition isn’t everything. Fun goes a long way in life as well.

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