When signing a child up for a travel or club team, realize that time is going to be the biggest investment. Keep the checkbook and credit cards handy, though. It’s easy to get sucked into a world that requires only a minimal investment up front.
Remember those 99-cent record clubs?
A majority of the sports offered for the youngest athletes are very affordable. When the scoreboard is flipped on, everything changes. Kids fall in love with the newest equipment and colorful uniforms. Getting into a more competitive environment requires a club team commitment. The fees go up when coaches get paid. Family vacations are spent at tournaments in places like Myrtle Beach, Orlando, Atlanta, Boston. Even a weekend event three hours away can run $500 for travel and food.
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It adds up quickly.
There’s a reason why the hottest markets in an industry with an estimated $9 billion in yearly revenue are the affluent suburbs.
“People who have money are more likely to spend it on what is really a luxury item,” said Anthony Yacco, who runs 4D Sports and Performance Center in Mahopac along with the New York Swarm baseball club.
So what does it cost?
Here are three sports kids can get into that are relatively inexpensive — in the beginning:
Basketball: A sturdy pair of basketball sneakers without Jordan logos runs $50-$75. A composite indoor/outdoor basketball is $25. Now all that’s really needed is a playground with a hoop. The first competitive outlet is usually a recreation department program or CYO. Expect to pay $125-$300, plus gas and Gatorade. Moving up the ladder into super leagues and club teams comes with greater expense. Those programs operate year round, so team fees, uniforms and equipment quickly add up to $1,500-$2,000. Any team that gets on airplanes is high rent. Kids who land on a top 100 list are generally taken care of by elite club teams. And those who aspire to play at that level typically spend $3,000-$5,000 a year to cover coaching, training and travel.
Soccer: Most locally based recreation teams or AYSO clubs only ask in the neighborhood of $150 to sign up. Cleats that will last in the mud go for $40 and shin guards are $12. They grow up quickly, but the price of necessary equipment never gets too silly. It’s the fees to be part of exclusive clubs with connections to colleges and travel costs that can soar past $5,000 at 13u, 14u, 15u, 16u and 17u that can result in countless macaroni and cheese dinners.
Swimming: Group lessons at the YWCA in Rockland are less than $100 for those with family memberships. There are similar offerings all over the Lower Hudson Valley. Equipment is basic – bathing suit, goggles, flip flops and a towel. When the kids progress to the competitive level where private coaching and club memberships are part of the game, it’s suddenly a $1,000- to $2,000-a-year venture. And when they get on the national scene, add more for trainers and travel.
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Here are three sports that are expensive from the word go:
Baseball: Expenses for T-ball aren’t the least bit intimidating. When kids get deeper into Little League, they will need a fluorescent Easton Mako bat that you might find on sale for $200. A personalized glove with team colors is $325. Private lessons with a hitting or pitching instructor run $75-$125 an hour. And when they make travel squads, plan on $1,500 for teams planning to stay within an hour of home and $3,000 for teams looking to spend time at Baseball Heaven in Long Island or Diamond Nation in Flemington, New Jersey. Travel is a big expense. Hotels on Long Island or in Myrtle Beach are very expensive. Group dinners add up in a hurry.
Horseback riding: There’s a reason why less than 1 percent of the population has a sprawling estate with beautifully fenced-in meadows. Estimates vary, but going all in here can be a $20,000 payout for a helmet, boots, saddle, lessons and riding time. And if your son or daughter develops a passion, it’s only a matter of time before their birthday wish is a pony.
Ice hockey: Go online and check out the price of skates. A quality skate for a toddler retails for $60. A quality skate for a teenager is $600. Wait, it gets worse. Ice time is expensive and clubs routinely get $3,000 to $6,000 a season depending on how much practice time is penciled in. How much is a long weekend in Quebec for a family of four? Let’s just say, if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.
ABOUT THE PROJECT: Journal News/lohud sports writers Josh Thomson and Mike Dougherty, along with photojournalist John Meore, fanned out this past spring and summer to investigate the growing world of youth sports in the Lower Hudson Valley for this series, Pay to Play.