Drive by a park or complex of athletic fields, and you’ll see a familiar scene: kids decked out in fancy uniforms with warmup jackets, practice jerseys and equipment bags all in matching colors and logos.
Welcome to youth club soccer, where the competition for making the roster is intense and the tab can easily amount to thousands of dollars in bills for many parents who dream that their kids have what it takes to play in college or even at the highest level.
No wonder the $19 billion youth sports industry has grown by more than 10% over the past decade. About 60 million youngsters and teens ages 6 to 18 participate in organized sports each year, according to the National Council of Youth Sports.
This is the time of year when kids from grade school to high school try out to make the club teams that travel sometimes year round for tournaments that frequently include game exposure in front of college coaches dangling scholarships.
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It’s a giant leap up from the programs run by the parks and recreation department with the aid of parent volunteer coaches.
Indeed, club teams have become so prevalent that there’s an even more elite level for the best players. They travel more and play on teams and in leagues with professional-sounding names.
It’s not just soccer. The financial commitment is just as high for kids playing on traveling teams for baseball, basketball, volleyball, softball, tennis and other sports.
One of my kids played on a club soccer team for several years. Coached by an Englishman named Johnny, it was a year-round commitment, with out-of-town travel, hotel accommodations and occasional airfare. Each month, I’d receive a bill for anywhere from $100 to $500 covering the coach’s salary, league and tournament fees, and special charges for uniform upgrades.
The travel commitments — sometimes to locales hours away — were the real killers. There were times, I must admit, when I hoped the team would get knocked out in an early round so my son and I could make it home at a decent hour and back to school and work the following day.
The whole club experience got to be too much of a time, energy and financial drain. And my teen wasn’t having fun. It was an easy decision to pull the plug.
Parents, if your son or daughter is contemplating playing on a more seriously competitive club soccer, basketball, baseball or softball team, don’t commit because it could mean a ticket to the big-time. Not every teen has the talent of Bronny James, the son of NBA legend Lebron James who recently committed to USC.
Do it because your athlete will have fun, make friends, be part of a team environment and get regular exercise. But be aware of the financial commitment that’s a big part of club sports. For example:
- Count on extra costs for “extras,” such as two sets of uniforms, warmup gear and other apparel. It’s hard to say “no” when all the teammates are sporting new gear with the team logo.
- Equipment can be pricey. Soccer boots (aka cleats) can run upward of $300 a pair. Baseball and softball bats and gloves also aren’t cheap, which really hurts when they get left behind at the practice field.
On a side note, if this is your first experience with youth sports, don’t shell out a lot of money for the latest, greatest aluminum baseball bat or other gear that could get buried in the garage if your athlete loses interest in the sport. Better to shop the secondhand stores or check out garage sales at least until your young athlete settles on an activity or three.
- Finally, beware of the parent dynamics. In my experience, the more money parents shelled out for their athlete to play, the more noise they created over who got into the starting lineups and playing time. And it’s not always pretty.
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