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How Do You Pay for the Rising Cost of Youth Sports?

All of us are aware of the expanding role sports plays in the lives of kids. When I was growing up, we had a little league baseball season each year, and, of course, school sports once you reached junior high school. That was it.

Today, it’s a different story.

Kids are playing sports in preschool and may play for 12-13 years by the time they graduate from high school. The Club Sports community is gigantic where I live. If you’re serious and good enough, you can play travel ball and actually find a way to play three or four sports a year (if you like soccer, football, baseball and basketball). As you can imagine, the cost for playing a sport is also rising. The game “ain’t what it used to be.” Between equipment, fees, snacks, uniforms, travel and lodging—a family can spend thousands of dollars before the year is over. And that’s just for one kid.

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So here’s a first for me.

According to a local news station, more families are seeking help from outsiders to pay for all of this. They are using sites like GoFundMe to raise money to cover the cost of having their son or daughter involved in a sport. In the same way you’d raise money for a charity, a humanitarian mission trip overseas, or to dig wells in Africa, they’re asking for donations to provide the opportunity.

This got me thinking.

On the one hand, this sounds like an ingenious idea. With the Internet today, we have the opportunity to contact others and raise money for all kinds of causes and needs. There are a number of sites young entrepreneurs can use to get funding for a business start-up; there are websites you can use to solicit donations for a charity or ministry you believe in; and there are even sites to cover the cost of a trip you’ll take to Haiti or Zambia to serve for two weeks there. Why not for a sport? Especially if it’s a low-income family that could not afford for their child to play a club sport, perhaps this is a legitimate way to make it happen. It could even be seen as an investment.

On the other hand, this is quite a shift in mentality. I grew up in a middle class home where my dad made enough money for each of us to have what we needed: food, clothes, school supplies and a roof over our heads. There were a number of times, however, that he would say to my requests, “We can’t afford that,” and I learned it was okay. I became content without that request. There was something to be learned from not having everything we wanted.

I wonder if we’ve bought into a new report card as parents, one that assumes if we are to be “good” parents, we must furnish our kids with everything they want. Then I wonder: Is that really true? Is that really good for them? Is using a site like GoFundMe appropriate to raise money to play sports? Is it raising money for a “want,” not a “need”?

I thought this might spark a conversation. Consider these questions:

  • Where do you draw the line on parental responsibility?
  • What do we owe our children?
  • When is it better to teach kids to “do without” instead of “I will pay for this”?
  • How does using a creative method for paying for fees train our kids to think?
  • Could using a site to raise money be a good filter to determine whether your child will be able to play in a league? (If you raise the money, they can play; otherwise, they cannot).

Let me know your thoughts.


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9 Comments

  1. Katy Mumaw on September 16, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Dr. Elmore, thanks for the post! I love reading your daily comments and pondering and prioritizing my own life and standards. I will not judge who have created GoFundMe accounts, but I do think it is good and healthy to tell your children no or we don’t have the money for that or give them options, you can have/do this or that, but not both.
    Thanks again!

  2. CJ Stewart on September 16, 2015 at 8:30 am

    This is great stuff. The fragmentation can be cut in half if the coaches possessed a methodology for development. Because most coaches don’t, kids are forced to play lots of games until they “figure out the proper way to play the game”. Coaches preach fundamentals but can’t teach them often. Teaching and telling aren’t the same. Developing good fundamentals won’t require you to play an outrageous amount of games per year. The games are nothing more than a testing ground that determine what needs to be worked on at the next practice. Kids can practice alone and need to be taught to do so. It’s important to learn how to practice before learning the skills of a sport. The skills will come by virtue of proper practice. Practices should be short developing small skill segments of the sport. The coaches responsibility is to let you know the small segments of the skill and then you can individually perform the reps to develop the skills. What about the kid doing the wrong reps? The coaches responsibility is to make right and wrong really clear along with how to make adjustments.

    1. Do it wrong. FAILURE
    2. Do it different. SUCCESS
    3. Do it right. ADJUST
    4. Do it again. CONSISTENCY
    5. Move on to #2 when you do it wrong again. MATURATION

    It takes 3,000 reps to develop a habit and you don’t have to drive 3,000 miles, spend 3,000 hours and $3,000 to develop a habit. The coach is a resource and games are testing grounds.

    • Tim Elmore on September 16, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Thank you for weighing in, CJ. I always love your insights.

  3. deborah on September 16, 2015 at 8:56 am

    what if your child has the talent and potential to be one of the top athletes in her sport and has proven such, possibly to be in the Olympics, however you as the parent can not afford for them to continue competing in the sport due to finances. Reality for many i assume, but a hard pill to swallow….. 🙁

    • Tim Elmore on September 16, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Great question, Deborah. Steph has a great response below to this topic.

  4. Steph on September 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

    The key here is middle ground. As a parent and former teacher, I’ve seen the many many faces of good and bad parenting. There is no one right answer for every family however, the way we handle it is to explain to our daughter how many hours we have to work to earn whatever trivial thing she desires. She knows we are only required to provide love, school, food, shelter, and clothing, and that the rest is a bonus. This also brings up the notion that just because we choose not to buy something for her, doesn’t mean she can’t earn it herself. Rather than a Go Fund Me site, why don’t we go back to asking our family for support, and then earning it? I remember helping my aunts in the garden and around the house to earn money for soccer tournaments. Most kids aren’t olympic hopefuls in need of serious financial aid just to keep playing, but there are organizations out there for those kids. Low income families should absolutely have the opportunity to play, but the Y programs are there to help. Also, what are we teaching our kids if we tell them that they can get what they want by asking for handouts and then telling them to work hard on the field? If they help earn the money for their sport, they’ll feel more invested in achieving the best possible outcome for their team and themselves. There can be no double standards in teaching kids the value of hard work in life. That is one of the main lessons of sports and asking strangers to pay for it diminishes its intrinsic value. I am sure there are exceptions, but I think the option to play sports should be earned in part by the child to broaden the range of lessons to be derived from such sports.

  5. linlacor on September 16, 2015 at 10:43 am

    I will share my opinion for your conversation is to address the 5 questions you posted. I think once a parent becomes a parent they have a responsibility to be the best parent they can be for their future adult (I like how you worded that last night) so that the trend continues. I think responsible parenting means that you have made a decision early on to decide what means to you and your family and you parent with that goal in mind…your decision on how to parent your child is a personal one and I feel that as long as a parent is thinking the entire time they’re parenting then they are parenting responsibly. I don’t think there is a specific line for parental responsibility. My goal as a parent is for my children to grow up and look back on their life one day with more good memories than bad. My responsibility on how to accomplish that is complicated and dynamic and subject to change if I see that I’m getting too far away from what is genuine to my beliefs. I also am parenting with baggage….I was raised in a single parent low income home. My mom worked 2 jobs from the time I was 10 years old until I was in my 20’s. She was physically & emotionally absent for most of my youth but did the best she could do at that point in time but it meant I had noone supervising me so I had the opportunity to take many risks and experience the natural consequences of those risks. Fortunately, the most difficult consequence I experienced was getting pregnant at 18 years old and placing my daughter for adoption. I never had the opportunity to parent her but when she turned 19 years old we reconnected and she is now 26 and we get to have long conversations about parenting and what her parents did and whether I would have parented similar to them or different to them. Fourteen years after I placed her for adoption my husband and I adopted our daughter and then 4 years later we adopted our son. I am a very different parent to my children that I am parenting than my mom was to me. My daughter who has an instagram account tells me that I am a stalker mom because I spend time daily monitoring her instagram account…not because of her but because I want to know what the kids are like that she is “friends” with because that tells me something about their parents. I can tell which kids have “stalker” parents and which kids have parents who either don’t acknowledge or don’t care about their kids’ instagram account. So, my point is – where to draw the line for parental responsibility is a personal and very complicated question to answer. I feel I owe it to my children to be the best mom I can be to them at any given point in time. That is all I can do. How I define best mom is again, a very personal and complicated answer. I think the earlier you can instill a value in your child that doing without isn’t a bad thing (regardless of whether you can pay for it or not) the better. I think if a parent feels that it is in their child’s best interest to play youth sports and is able to find ways to make that happen if cost is a factor that could prevent it then I think the message they give their child is “I know this is important to you and I will do everything I can to help you do this and the reason why is ………”. My daughter is an “on-level mostly A’s” student who does her homework…usually begrudgingly and would rather watch youtube videos or play around on her pinterest boards or read quotes and things on instagram. She is creative and enjoys being in front of an audience, even if the audience is just my mom or me…..she is taking acting lessons now and they are very expensive and fortunately my husband and I can afford them. If we couldn’t, we would have just told her no – she has to go with a less expensive option and that is because I am not 100% sure yet that her passion for acting will continue. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t – this is her first year taking a class and it is a lot of work for her. I’m curious to see how she feels about it at the end of the 10 months when she finishes it. If she finishes it and falls in love with it even more, it could mean that the next step is to start auditioning which could be a very expensive process. I still don’t think I would look outside of our household to make that happen if we can’t afford to. If my daughter gets accepted into a college that she feels and has convinced me to feel is the right college for her but it is too expensive, then I will look for ways to make that happen outside of our household. I would definitely have her 100% involved in the process and I think just the process alone would be an incredible learning experience. I was 100% responsible for paying for my own college education and I am grateful for that. I am grateful my mom couldn’t afford to pay for it so that it wasn’t a choice for her to make…there wasn’t a safety net for me, it was either figure it out or don’t do it but I knew that I didn’t want to live the life I had come from, nor did I want my future children to live like I did so I worked the entire time I went to college and it took me 7 years and I had student loans and grants but I did it and it gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment so I think that creative funding can offer the same for kids.

  6. Warren 'Coach' Nye on September 16, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Tim, Love your posts always insightful. I was brought up it seems the same way as others on this thread have been. In our home we were loved and given what we needed which was shelter, food, clothes and the respect for what have and what you could earn if needed. I have coached and mentored over the pass 35 years and feel in most cases the family home is still the same but you will always have the exceptions. I was brought up that if my parents couldn’t or didn’t feel there was something I wanted and pay for then it was my responsibility to go out and earn the income to afford it myself. This taught me alot of things about life in general ie; you have to earn it to deserve it, you gain respect more of the item once you have accomplished to income to buy it. As for dealing with children who ask and receive from their own parents at all cost, I have to look at their own situation and remember I am on this earth not to judge others but to help others if needed.!

  7. Nick Moss on September 16, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    A new trend in our community is for sports teams (and other youth organizations) to stand outside the grocery store and ask for donations. Parents sit in camping chairs while their children hold out buckets for money. I get irritated when I encounter these groups because I see this as panhandling. To me, the parents are teaching their children that money is gained by standing outside a public place and holding out their hands. We must teach our children that money is earned through work. As a youth leader at a church, fundraising is part of what I have to do. We have created policies that determine how we fund raise. Our youth work in people’s yards, host a dinner/auction, and babysit for the money they raise. Our youth have to give up time with friends, family, and other activities in order to take part in something they value. Parents need help in understanding that the type of fundraising they participate in will affect the way their kids value money.
    p.s. See you next week at the Conference in Lakeland, FL!

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How Do You Pay for the Rising Cost of Youth Sports?