Thursday, October 30, 2008

Comparing the costs of youth sports ($$$)

The costs of participating in sports varies so much it’s ridiculous, but completely understandable.

1) On the low end is FREE….all school sports are free, although you may have a fund-raiser or two, if it’s time to buy new uniforms or need to travel pretty far (think High School Band) on a rare occasion. My kids on school teams have never had to pay for playing…the costs of the fields, the coach, the bus rides to other schools, the uniforms, and equipment have always been covered by the county school system or the PTA (uniforms usually). Often there are extra’s that you can purchase, like sweats with your name and number on them, and team photos, but the actual cost of playing on the basketball team is generally free. Other free sports teams/events….hmmmmm, not so much. Most things have at least a tiny fee.

2) Next up is the REALLY CHEAP…this includes playing rec soccer, basketball, etc on teams sponsored by the local Parks and Rec department, PAL (police action league), YMCA, Boys and Girls clubs, etc. Think…not privately owned organizations. In my experience there is a small price for a season of playing which includes about one game and one practice per week. The coaches are usually volunteer moms and dads. This cost is a bargain, usually between $20.00 and $80.00 per season, and they also usually get a t-shirt. This is how we always start to get a feel for what each kid likes and is good at.

3) Now comes the big step….EXPENSIVE when your kid gets a little better and a little older (9+) it’s time to decide if he’s ready to move to the big leagues: the travel teams (of which there are even more levels of skill and cost). They practice a lot more than once a week, they have professional coaches and they charge accordingly. Soccer for example, you’d think that would be cheap no matter what the level, but no, it’s not (nor is Hockey, AAU Baseball or Basketball, Cheerleading, Lacrosse, etc.). Based on my experience, you could pay from 500.00-5000.00/year to play. For example, to play on a top level travel soccer team costs approximately (in my area) 3000.00. Breaking it down:
150.00/month for 10 months for team and club fees (which covers coaches, fields, refs, etc)
300.00 for the uniform
1000.00 for 3-5 tournaments (hotel, gas, entry fees, misc. travel costs)

Other team sports are very similar. As for things like Gymnastics teams, Cheerleading All Stars, year round swimming, etc ; although the line items may be a little different (instead of paying Ref Fees, you may be paying for 6 uniforms, or a choreographer, or judges fees) but the numbers come out to the same: $2000-3000/year for top levels. You can decide whether it worth it. Depends totally on the kid and your situation....for me it is worth it because of what my kid gets out of it (which could be the subject of another post).

So……is there a $$ level somewhere between #2 and #3? YES, but often it’s hard to do, and you may have to mix and match services. Often a child at those critical “in-between ages and skill levels” really wants to make a big commitment to playing his sport at a higher level than the once/week YMCA rec volleyball team. However you, your family’s finances and quite possibly your child are not quite sure you’re ready for the commitment of a highy competitive, expensive team. There are plenty of things you can do to bridge the gap, test the waters, etc. I’ve tried all of these with much success. After a few years, it will be obvious whether moving up to the “big leagues” is the right move for your kid and your family.

a) Multiple rec teams/same sport—sign little Mia Hamm up for 2 rec teams this spring. She can play soccer with 2 local parks and rec club teams; most weeks she’ll end up with 2 practices on weeknights and 2 games on Saturday, thus she's getting twice the fun. Yes there will be a few conflicts, but for the most part this has worked great for my kids. If she is loving it and consistently the best player on the teams, maybe next year she can tryout for a Classic or Premier team. It’s still cheap as hell, and it will give you a sense of the insanity of running across town 4 times a week, juggling various practice, game, and snack schedules, and keeping track of numerous uniform pieces. Can you handle it?? Does your kid love it?? If Yes, you can keep doing this or move to the next level next season (one big team, well skilled, better coached, with lots of practices per week)

b) Training program or clinics—most sports have private clubs that offer weekly training skills training in a specific sports. So your young basketball player could play Rec level basketball on a Parks and Rec team, with one practice and one game per week AND he could attend a one night per week attend a basketball skills clinic at a private organization. Usually these programs cost 50-75/month around here and focus solely on skills. I’ve noticed considerable improvement everytime we’ve done this (we’ve done it with swimming, soccer, and basketball in the past 5 years or so…..oh and also had one son do a speed and agility session which he still credits with helping him make a special basketball team a few years later)

c) Multiple-sport rec teams/different sports. If you kid is just not getting enough activity, let him play on rec soccer team and a rec baseball team during the same season. This is still a really cheap option, and will have the same pitfalls and adventures as #a above, but will let him explore more options… It will also show him and you what he enjoys most and what he is most naturally talented at. Maybe even one team sport and one individual sport (karate, swimming). The biggest pitfall of this is that for a small subset of kids, they never want to give one up next season..they want to keep playing both soccer and baseball, and probably want to add Football too.. That’s when you know you have a true youth athlete. Eventually, if they do want to play at the higher level, they’ll have to pick a sport (or possibly 2), but at this age let him do as much as you both can handle.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Happy Beginners

We all know that enjoying sports and fitness activities as a youth can lead to a lifetime of good health (both physical and mental), confidence, and happiness, right?

So then, why do so many of us parents totally ruin sports for them by the time they really need these positive feelings and good exercise habits…namely the teen and adult years. I can’t answer that question, but I can give a few recommendations as to how to help your young child (sports beginner) get the most out of playing sports.

Actually, having fun at sports is really easy, it’s a natural thing….I think I’d better focus on some recommendations on how to NOT to screw it up for your child when he’s young. The goal is to get him/her to keep playing and improving season after season. We want to them to build confidence at one sport, so they will want to try more things as they get older and eventually find what they love, whether it be soccer, gymnastics, lacrosse, ballet, piano, or whatever. I’ve known kids who’ve wanted to (and did) quit sports for life by age 6 because there was too much pressure and it wasn’t fun enough, thanks to dad being too gung-ho or mom being too competitive (or vice-versa).

1) Follow your kids’ lead. If he wants to play soccer with you after soccer practice, or go to the batting cages, that’s great! But please don’t try to teach him anything or do the drills the coach just did (ie. if you are setting up cones in the backyard, you have a problem). Let him show you what he learned and play the way he wants to….Let the play time with you be FUN, no pressure.

2) Praise his skills (‘that was an amazing catch you made in left field’)

3) After games, win or loss, don’t make a big deal of anything. Just say “You were awesome!! Was it fun? ” then move on “lets go eat lunch”. If s/he wants to talk about the game he will, if not: no big deal. Even after a big win, don’t make a HUGE DEAL about it because s/he eventually realizes that “wow if my dad is that excited about me winning, he’s gonna be pissed or really disappointed in me when I lose”.

4) Bring good snacks on your snack day, let her pick them out with you at the grocery store.

5) Praise his attitude (‘what a great friend and teammate you are, you showed that when you helped Jasmine up after she tripped’)

6) Don’t compare him/her to you when you ‘were his age’. Your memory is really fuzzy, you probably weren’t as good as you think and it’s not fair for him to already be competing against you (or your memory).

7) Think twice about coaching his/her team. It’s usually a very positive experience for all; but there are certain kids who are better off being coached by someone else.

8) Praise his overall self with no regard to his sports ability, or lack thereof. (“you’re an awesome kid, I’m so proud of you’)

So, your overall goal is for your child to get some exercise, teamwork-training, and sport skills training, but for them not to think about it that way. All you need them to know at this young age is they are having a great time and they want to come back next week!