Club sports can take a club to your checkbook

03/26/2014 11:09 PM

03/26/2014 11:09 PM

Round-trip airfare for two from Kansas City to Las Vegas, $560.

Nightly rate at a hotel near the Strip, $120.

Throw in a rental car, snacks, meals, registration fees, souvenirs and a few other expenses and you’re talking at least a grand for the weekend. And that’s with discounts.

A weekend getaway or business junket? No, a weekend soccer tournament last fall for preteen girls that attracted elite teams from Kansas City and elsewhere to Las Vegas.

Welcome to the checkbook economics of youth club-level sports, where many parents readily shell out thousands of dollars a year for their child to play on handpicked teams for soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and other sports.

For many preteens and adolescents playing on club squads, a road trip is no longer defined as a car ride across town. It’s more like hopping on a plane to fly across country — sometimes with the entire family in tow.

No wonder youth sports travel is a $7 billion-a-year industry and growing despite the sluggish economy, according to experts who track the movement. That statistic, cited by Sports Facilities Advisory, includes hotels, restaurants, gasoline, airfare and other travel-related costs. Nationwide, about 53 million young athletes travel to youth sporting events.

The Clearwater, Fla.-based consultant on sports facilities and recreation centers says the spending has been fueled by parents’ desire to keep their kids healthy and active and partly by the growing popularity of sports such as soccer and lacrosse. But many parents also see club sports as a ticket to a college scholarship or, in a few cases, a step toward realizing a professional dream.

This is the time of year when many club teams hold tryouts for the coming summer and fall leagues. If this is your first club sport experience, keep this in mind: It’s expensive.

Most club teams are not affiliated with schools. Instead, they’re organized through local programs and are funded by corporate sponsors, private donations and mostly by dues-paying parents.

It’s been a few years since one of my kids played on a club soccer team, but I remember writing lots of checks. There were monthly club dues that covered coaching salaries, practice field rentals and league fees. There was another charge for two sets of game uniforms and practice gear. And there were always extras you could buy, such as equipment bags and backpacks adorned with the team insignia.

Several weekend tournaments were also built into the schedule, and as I learned, parents typically chipped in to cover the coaches’ lodging and meals.

Add up all the spending over five or six years and you probably could pay for one or two semesters of college.

While I’m a big fan of youth sports, the club programs definitely takes playing

and

spending to higher levels than your standard recreational teams.

How can you control the money flow?

It helps to know upfront the price of making the team. Many teams hand out their fee schedules and payment deadlines at tryouts or post the information online so you can compare them with other clubs your athlete is trying out for. While that makes budgeting simpler, my experience is that there will be off-budget surprises throughout the year, like skills camps.

If you have limits to what you will spend on activities, make sure that message comes across to your player. For example, you promise to cover the regular monthly fees, but a must-have warmup jacket or equipment bag will come out of your son or daughter’s checkbook.

Another money saving tip: Go for a bigger size on the practice jerseys so they will last two or three years and match growth spurts.

And when traveling, only one parent goes as the chaperone. And look for hotel deals with mealtime freebies.

There’s another reason not to go overboard on spending. Your athlete might get cut from the team and suddenly that expensive warmup sweatshirt will be the last thing she’ll want to wear.

Finally, don’t equate all the expenses associated with making a club team to specific goals or expectations, such as a scholarship. That adds unnecessary pressure. And make sure your child really wants to play — otherwise this could be one of the worst spending decisions you’ve ever made.

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