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Inflation increases the pressure on already expensive children’s sports

It only took Rachel Kennedy seconds to grab her phone after she got out of line at a sporting goods store where she had just finished shopping for new gloves, pants, a belt, cleats and other gear for her son. , Liam’s, the upcoming baseball season.

“I wrote his dad and asked him, ‘Did we really spend $350 on all this last year?'” Kennedy said.

Sticker shock in youth sports is nothing new, but the onslaught of double-digit inflation in America this year has added an expensive wrinkle to soccer fields, swimming pools and dance studios across America. This has forced some families, like the Kennedys, to cut back on the number of seasons, leagues or sports their children can play in any given year, while motivating league organizers to be more creative in devising ways to keep prices low and increase participation.

Recent studies conducted before inflation began to affect everyday life in America found that families spend about $700 a year on children’s sports, with travel and equipment accounting for most of the cost.

Everyone from football coaches to swim coordinators are trying to find less expensive ways to keep families through the door. The cost of uniforms and equipment, as well as facility rentals, are on the rise — all on top of supply chain issues, hard-to-find staff, a lack of coaches and rising gas and travel costs that have been exacerbated by, and sometimes caused by, the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted, and sometimes completely canceled the seasons. The annual rate of inflation for the 12 months ending in September was 8.2%.

Kennedy, who lives in Monroe, Ohio, and describes her family as “lower middle class,” turned Liam away from summer and fall ball not so much because of the league’s entry fee, but because “it doesn’t include all necessary equipment.”

“And gas prices have gotten to the point where we don’t have the bandwidth to drive one or two hours” for the full slate of weekend games and tournaments that dot the typical youth baseball schedule each season. The Kennedys rarely stayed overnight in hotels for multi-day tournaments.

A study released by the Aspen Institute before COVID-19 found that, on average, across all sports, parents spend more annually on travel ($196 per child per sport) than on any other aspect of sports: equipment, lessons, registration, etc. A number of reports say hotel prices in some cities are about 30% higher than last year, and roughly the same as in 2019 before the pandemic began.

Facilities are more expensive to hire umpires to officiate games, janitors to keep fields ready, janitors to clean indoor courts, and coaches to conduct practices. Even sports that are traditionally on the less expensive spectrum are facing challenges.

“You talk to people and say, ‘What do you mean you get paid $28 an hour to be a lifeguard?'” said Steve Roush, a former Olympic world leader who is now the executive director of Southern California Swimming, whose sanctions match in one of America’s most expensive regions. “The going rate just went up, and that’s when you’re going to find anybody at all. And that’s part of the big gap in bathing prices today and three years ago.

One Denver dance studio director, who did not want her name used because of the competitive nature of her business, said she began looking for new uniform suppliers to lower costs for families. Some destinations for the two out-of-state contests typical of this season have been moved to cities with more — and therefore less expensive — flight options. Some of these teams only make a third trip, this time to a major competition, if they receive a “paid” invitation.

“The cost is just enough to ask them to go a third time,” said the director. “Often you don’t know you’re going to get that rate until February or March, and you have to turn around and go to it in April, and that turnaround just makes it very difficult from a cost perspective.”

At stake is the future of the youth sports industry, which brought in about $20 billion by one estimate before COVID-19 dramatically cut spending in 2020.

Also, inflation gives some families the opportunity to go back to the problem that first arose when COVID-19 more or less canceled all youth leagues for a year or more.

“There was some optimism that maybe families would think, ‘Okay, let’s maybe have a more balanced approach to how we’re going to do sports,'” said Jennifer Agans, an assistant professor at Penn State who studies the impact of youth sports. . “But before this economic wave, everyone was so excited to get back to normal that we forgot the lessons we learned from slowing down our lives. Maybe it gives another chance to reassess it.”

It’s a choice that not everyone wants to make, but one that is forced more on middle and lower class people. Another Aspen Institute report, done before the pandemic, found that children from low-income families were half as likely to play sports as children from high-income families.

Kennedy said she has long been fortunate to have a supportive family — including grandparents who chip in to cover some of Liam’s baseball expenses. But some things had to go. A spot on a travel team can run up to $1,200, and that’s not including equipment and travel, “and we just don’t have that kind of money,” Kennedy said.

However, Liam loves baseball and sitting it out at all wasn’t a real option.

“It’s the whole parenting situation of, ‘I’m going to starve to make sure my kids get what they need,'” Kennedy said. “So if I’m going to give up my Starbucks or some little extras for me, it’s worth it to make sure he can play. But it certainly doesn’t get any cheaper.”


AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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