Price of school sports makes access difficult for low-income families
WASHINGTON TERRACE, Utah — Kids can learn great life lessons by playing sports, but the price tag to participate is a major stress point for families.
Youth sports is big business with 56% of kids under the age of 17 playing on a team. On average, parents can spend over $1,000 a year, with some seeing totals as high as five figures.
It’s a sacrifice a family in Washington Terrace says is worth it.
“It has gotten progressively higher, the prices have,” Maggie Contreras-Miller said.
She crunches the numbers well before hockey season starts, saving every penny so her son and daughter can play the sport they love.
Dominic plays goalie for a traveling team while Olivia is a freshman winger.
“We’ve invested a lot,” Contreras-Miller said. “We’re talking a lot.”
Her kids have picked what’s considered one of the most expensive sports. To compete year-round in hockey, Maggie and her husband Reuben shelled out $5,000 on everything from equipment, traveling and tournament fees to summer clinics and private lessons.
“My son’s fees to play are about $1,200 just to play and be part of the organization. (For private training) We’re talking once or twice a week about an hour each time, $50 an hour,” Contreras-Miller said.
Travis Dorsch, an associate professor at Utah State University and the founder of Families in Sport Lab, said this pay-to-play system hurts kids in low-income families.
“We’ve created this system that has professionalized the athlete experience,” Dorsch said.
He believes community sports leaders should be more inclusive.
“In some ways, maybe revitalized the rec league, the in-town leagues where many parents simply can’t afford to have their kids off doing the travel league,” he said.
Helping families pay for youth activities is a good first step.
“The Weber County Youth Hockey they have scholarships that you can apply for,” Contreras-Miller said, adding her family tries to be frugal in other areas.
She said families will fundraise, carpool, pack lunches and do whatever it takes to watch their kids thrive, develop character and be part of a team.
“It’s exciting to see your kid go out there and enjoy it and be happy and we don’t have to bribe him to go to practice, so that’s always a plus,” Contreras-Miller said. “I’d say it’s worth the $5,000 and more.”
Dorsch said there’s also an unintended consequence.
Kids may feel pressure to perform because they know how much their parents are investing so they may end up enjoying the sport less, and in many cases, quit.
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