The Time Suck and Expense of Youth Sports: How One Mom Weighed the Pros and Cons

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: The Time Suck and Expense of Youth Sports: How One Mom Weighed the Pros and Cons

Written By: Jessica Manning

When my oldest son was in third grade, he was asked to play on a basketball team with some classmates. Another parent had created a team previously with his older son, so he had some coaching experience.

Although my husband and I were happy our son was invited to play on the team, we quickly realized that this was a “select” team by invitation only – the coach would not be accepting other parents’ requests to join. 

At the first parent meeting, the coach reviewed the rules and intense schedule for the team and said he’d be ordering full uniforms for the boys that cost around $100 each. (Whaaat?!? We’re talking 3rd graders here!)

I remember looking around wondering if other parents felt unsettled about diving into this so seriously when our boys were so young. It didn’t appear so, and my assumption, I found, was correct when I raised my hand and voiced my concerns. 

The Time Suck and Expense of Youth Sports: How One Mom Weighed the Pros and Cons


I said something eloquently inspiring like, “What if we did things somewhat differently? What if we rotated players for different tournaments to give each boy playing time? And do they really need such expensive uniforms? What about wearing their own black shorts and matching inexpensive jerseys? 

Dead silence.

After a long pause, the coach finally replied, “This is just kind of how it goes. Every team will have uniforms, and if we have more than 10 players, no one will get much playing time.” Another mom chimed in, “And they feel so special in their uniforms.”

They didn’t get my point.

Were we truly the only parents who saw the bigger picture? That playing the game was so much more important than gearing up with expensive uniforms and that what truly mattered was allowing every player the opportunity to be part of the team?

So, you know what we did? 

We signed our son up for the team and paid the uniform fee. This was the first (but certainly not the last) time my husband and I fell prey to athletic fear-mongering:

If you don’t start them young, they’ll fall behind and won’t catch up.

Every kid plays a sport. If yours doesn’t, it won’t “look” good and they definitely won’t fit in. 

If you say, “No,” to a team now, they’ll never get on one. 

If they don’t do extra training, the other kids will surpass them. 

While there is validity to some of these statements, it’s a shame that so many parents (ourselves included) get sucked into the competitive world of youth sports. Don’t get me wrong, like all parents, we want to expose our boys to sports they love. And like other parents, we don’t want to deny our kids those opportunities. But as we’ve gained experience in the youth sports world, we’ve developed a better grasp of our non-negotiables as a family. 

We’ve learned, firsthand, how youth sports can be all-encompassing  – virtually taking over the family schedule AND let’s not even get into the crazy expense of it all. Two-hour practices every weeknight, games every weekend, out-of-town tournaments, etc. Oh, and hand over the credit card for uniform fees, travel costs, hotel fees, and more.

Thus, when trying to decide where to draw the line with our kids’ sports, we’ve asked ourselves these powerful questions:

Does it Fit Our Vision of Family Life?

With every athletic opportunity presented to our boys, we’ve had to analyze whether it matched our vision for our family life, not just for each of our kids.

Whether it’s travel baseball, competitive cheerleading or gymnastics, soccer or football, every family has to consider the impact their child’s sport has on their family life. While some families thrive on the “always on the go” sports vibe, other families (especially single parents) struggle to keep up with the demanding schedule. 

Is the Coach a Positive or Negative Influence?

My husband and I have always felt strongly about monitoring who our boys spend their time with. While some coaches are awesome and positively influence the kids whom they coach, others don’t reflect the values we want our boys to be exposed to. (Have you ever seen a coach yell at or berate a player or an umpire, for instance, because they messed up or made a “bad call” in their eyes?)

Does it Make Financial Sense for the Family?

Bottom line, youth sports are expensive. And, travel teams are even MORE expensive. Attending events every weekend can literally break the bank when you add up entry and travel fees, hotel stays, and meal costs. Can your family afford it? Could that money be applied elsewhere… say toward future college expenses or a car for your teen? Does it truly make financial sense for your family to put out that kind of money? These are questions we all have to ask ourselves. 

Who’s More Committed: Parents or Kids?

We had to be honest about our kids’ true desire to play a sport in comparison to ours. Did we want our kids to be involved in sports more than they did? Were we living vicariously through our kids? Were we pushing them to do something they weren’t passionate about? In my family, we always allowed our boys to lead the way. If they wanted to play, we were all in. If they didn’t, that was okay, too. 

Did Our Kids Have a “Sports Only” Mentality or Did They Crave More Extracurricular Variety?

My husband and I have always agreed that our goal for our kids is that they benefit from the life lessons sports can provide, that they (hopefully) experience some success along the way, and that they’re truly happy being involved in their chosen sport.

While some youth sports can completely consume a family, my boys love socializing with friends, being involved in other activities and frankly, just being home. Thus, we determined that having a “sports only” mentality would deny them of their other loves. 

Is the Amount of Time, Energy, and Money Worth It?

Does the time, energy, and money spent on sports make sense for your child? If their athletic dreams don’t come to fruition, will you look back and regret your investments (I’m not just talking about money)?

I know families who’ve spent a small fortune on sports in hopes that their child will become a high school star and/or get a college scholarship. And, that’s fine if that’s your child’s goal. But not all kids are gifted athletes with that drive and ambition.

For many kids, their athletic careers end after high school. Even if your kid learns about being a teammate and possibly gets a few varsity minutes, you still have to be realistic about whether your financial, physical, and emotional investment makes sense for your child and family.

Am I Willing to Give My Child the Freedom to Quit?

Some kids are truly passionate about certain sports and their drive, ambition, and dedication motivate them to stick with a sport (or sports) season after season. On the other hand, other kids get psyched about a particular sport and lose their enthusiasm over time. 

When you’ve invested thousands of dollars in uniform, equipment, travel, hotel, special coaching, etc, it can be hard for some parents to be understanding when their kid comes to them and says, “I’m not enjoying it as much as I used to… I want to quit.” The question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to give my child the freedom to quit even after I’ve made a substantial “investment” in their sport? 

The benefits of youth sports are immeasurable, no one can deny that. But depending on a number of factors, it may not be right for your child or your family. Not all kids are cut out to play sports, not every kid has the desire to stick with a sport for years on end and not every family can afford the ever-rising costs associated with youth sports. 

No matter what you decide, don’t get swept up in the current of  “Your kid has to play a competitive sport.” Just do what’s right for you, your child, and your family. Nothing else should matter. 

About Jessica Manning

Jessica is a high school counselor with over 20 years of experience working with teenagers. She earned an M.A. in school counseling and a B.A. in English and secondary education. Jessica is married to a high school principal and has three teenage boys; her current life revolves around all things teen. When not working or following her sons’ sporting events, Jessica appreciates any opportunity she gets to veg at home with her family and her dog, Phyllis. 


If you enjoyed reading, “When Youth Sports Takes Over Your Family Life: How One Mom Kept Her Family Grounded,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy!

When Our Teen Wants to Quit a Sport: A Lesson from Olympic Athletes

75 All-Time BEST Sports Movies for Teenagers

My Son Hates Sports, and I’m Okay With That

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