Have Kids? These Sports Could Cost You $2,000-Plus per Year

Adult male huddled with young soccer players.

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Key points

  • Winter sports and those with a lot of equipment tend to be more expensive, including ice hockey, skiing/snowboarding and field hockey.
  • Travel costs are another important factor, especially in team sports that have “warning” games.
  • The least expensive sports are those with minimal equipment, as well as some of the more popular sports where equipment is cheap or easy to find used.

Most kids are like the Energizer Bunny. They continue, long before their parents are ready to take a nap. That’s why giving them an adequate outlet for that energy, like organized sport, is practically a necessity.

Unfortunately, that necessity starts to look a lot more like a luxury when you start diving into the impacts of personal finance. The average cost of a year of a single children’s sport (for a single child) is almost $700. And most kids play two or more sports.

The price to play can vary quite a bit from one sport to another. Many of the least expensive sports also require the least amount of equipment. But that is not the only factor. Popularity, ease of finding used gear, and travel needs all play a role.

Winter sports top the charts

In a survey by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, parents provided cost data for 21 sports. At the top of the list, ie the most expensive sports, are ice hockey and skiing/snowboarding.

The five most expensive children’s sports:

  1. Ice Hockey: $2,583
  2. Ski/snowboard: $2,249
  3. Field Hockey: $2,125
  4. Gymnastics: $1,580
  5. Lacrosse: $1,289

The two major sports are a good example of how costs can be highly dependent on different factors for each sport. Ice hockey, with an average annual cost of $2,583 per child, appears to be expensive across the board. Registration and travel costs far exceed equipment or class costs.

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Skiing/snowboarding, on the other hand, seems to be near the top of the list based on equipment cost alone. Of the average annual cost of $2,249, $1,174, or 52%, comes from purchasing or renting equipment. What makes sense; just buying the layers needed to avoid freezing can be expensive. And that’s before adding the high cost of skis or snowboards.

At the other end of the spectrum, the least expensive sports are often those with minimal equipment requirements. Track and field, cross country, flag football – all sports where a uniform is basic and you likely don’t need pads, poles or other expensive equipment.

Five least expensive children’s sports:

  1. Track and Field: $191
  2. Flag football: $268
  3. Skateboarding: $380
  4. Cross Country: $421
  5. Basketball: $427

That said, sports that require a lot of equipment but are very popular/common can also be quite affordable. American football, for example, can have many equipment requirements. However, soccer is so ubiquitous that gear is not only fairly affordable when new, but also fairly easy to find used.

The equipment is expensive, but the trips could be worse

While equipment costs may be the first thing that comes to mind when considering a new sport, it’s actually not the determining factor in the total cost of most of the sports in the survey. No, the cost of travel is actually the biggest expense for many sports.

For example, field hockey costs an average of $2,125 per year. Only about a quarter of that cost comes from equipment. It’s the $934 a year spent on travel to and from games that makes up the majority — 44 percent — of the cost of playing.

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(And we’re not talking about the fun kind of travel that earns you those sweet travel rewards. It’s often hours of driving in a van full of kids who’ve spent the last two hours sweating through their pillows. Talk about a labor of love. )

Of course, even signing your kids up for their sports teams can be expensive. Ice hockey registration alone costs an average of $634 per year. Two other major sports also have expensive memberships: field hockey costs $409 a year and lacrosse costs $411 a year.

Even if your child prefers to play a sport without equipment, you are not disconnected. Most non-team sports are those that require some form of classes or lessons.

Gymnastics, for example, costs an average of $1,580 a year, and more than a quarter of that (27%) is the cost of classes alone. But that’s not even the worst. More than 40% of the $1,170 average annual cost to play tennis comes from lesson costs. And more than 60% of the costs associated with martial arts come from the classes.

Ways to save

Participating in sports can be beneficial to children in a myriad of ways. It helps them develop self-confidence and sportsmanship (we need fewer sore losers in the adult world, that’s for sure), as well as providing a healthy outlet for excess energy.

But when you’re on a budget, that extra $700 a year can seem like a lot; raising children is already expensive without the added cost. Fortunately, there are some ways to reduce the costs of your children’s sports without eliminating them entirely.

  • Rent first: Most parents have gone through the pain of shelling out hundreds only to have your child decide three weeks in that they don’t like sports anymore. If possible, see if you can rent more expensive equipment until you’re sure your child will stick with it.
  • Buy used: Kids can outgrow their gear long before it’s at the end of its useful life. Try to collect used gear from friends, family and teammates. Many independent sporting goods stores will also sell soft-use equipment. (Don’t buy used helmets; they may lose their effectiveness.)
  • Car sharing: Travel costs for away matches and tournaments can be high. When you can, share travel expenses with other parents to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Grouped classes: If your child plays a sport that involves taking a lot of classes, ask their gym/dojo/etc. about class packs. Many places will offer package deals at a lower cost per class than you would pay for one class at a time.
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If nothing else, consider the cost of your children’s sports an investment. Your child will likely be happier and healthier. Plus, you’ll have fun too. You’ve never laughed until you’ve watched 7-year-olds with the entire hockey team try to skate!

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