By Ken Reed

It used to be that youth sports was a local community activity. Youth sports teams — “little league” teams if you will — would play other teams formed in their neighborhood and perhaps a few teams from close surrounding neighborhoods.

In today’s club sports world, youth teams are formed with players from all across a given city or state. Once formed, these teams develop schedules that have them traveling to games and tournaments hundreds of miles away, often requiring plane travel.

Travel club teams — many of which require the athletes to play the same sport year-round — are inaccessible to a significant segment of children due to economic reasons. Moreover, athletes that would like to play more than one sport during a calendar year can be shut out of these single sport teams if they don’t give the coach a year-round commitment.

Certainly, these travel teams can place a lot of pressure on kids to perform, many of them as young as 10-years-old. It’s produce or get dropped from the team. But many parents also feel pressure, often of the economic variety. Parents have to come up with the money for their child to play on these teams, and many times it isn’t easy. According to a Harris Poll survey, 27% of parents spend at least $6,000 a year on their children’s athletics, with 8% spending more than $12,000 annually. Parents are taking fewer vacations (36%) or working a second job (19%) to meet youth sports expenses. Moreover, 21% of parents are delaying retirement funding in order to pay for youth sports expenses. For parents in lower economic classes, steps like these aren’t even options. They’re priorities are things like paying rent and keeping food on the table.

There’s also a time cost involved with youth sports. Nearly 20% of parents spend 20+ hours per week on their kid’s youth sports activities. Time spent specifically for traveling often takes kids and their parents away from school, work and other activities. According to a youth sports app called GameChanger, the average club softball and baseball team travels about 1,200 miles a year for games and tournaments. Teams in Colorado travel an average of 2,551 miles a year. Club soccer, volleyball and basketball teams typically travel as much or more than softball and baseball teams.

The result of the continued growth of youth club sports is that the gap between youth sports “haves” and “have nots” continues to widen.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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