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Competitive sports: What's the cost?

Costs continue to escalate for youth athletics


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My eldest son, Jacob started playing soccer when he was four years old like so many other kids across the country. Six kids would bunch together tripping over each other to try and kick the ball in any direction. Occasionally, the ball would go into the net and it was fun. Jacob always enjoyed playing soccer, but he was not passionate. When he was seven years old, after the spring season his coach asked if Jacob wanted to play club soccer. We had no idea what that entailed and thought long and hard. After all, it felt good to be asked. Since he never practiced at home, we concluded club soccer did not make sense.

The summer following, Jacob played his second year of rec league, coach-pitch baseball. He loved it and excelled. Not only did he do well, we couldn’t get him to stop playing. Every day that summer, we played catch from the time I walked in the door from work to the time the sun went down. We decided after the season that we should find a more competitive team for him. 

Little did we know what we were getting into.

As a wealth management advisor, I help people achieve financial goals. One of the most common is to save and pay for the ever-increasing cost of college. Merging two completely different facets of my life – competitive sports and financial planning – made me wonder how much of Jacob’s college I could pay for if I placed all the money spent on competitive baseball into a 529 college savings plan.

Competitive Sports

If we are going to look at the cost of competitive youth athletics and the opportunity cost lost with saving for college, it is only fair to also look at the advantages:

Jacob has learned that not everybody gets a trophy. He has learned to win and lose with grace. He has learned that life isn’t always fair and often you fail. He has learned to play with teammates he does not like and to play for coaches he may not agree with. Most importantly, he has thrived in competition, made great friends and had fun. These are life lessons tough to come by at such a young age and memories he will never forget.

Laying Out the Costs

With Jacob being our first-born child, we were neophytes in the world of competitive sports.  He tried out for the local competitive club and was put on a team that played in five local tournaments and league games. That year, his team was not very good, but he thrived. We paid $550 to be a part of his organization which included the use of an indoor facility. Uniforms were an additional $200 and his equipment – bat, glove, cleats, gloves – cost another $300. The last cost was an additional $225 per player to enter the tournaments.  The total cost for his “8U” competitive baseball season was $1,475.

The next year, Jacob’s team cut some players and took a step toward being more competitive. With this came more tournaments and a trip to an out-of-town tournament in Grand Junction. This brought the total cost to enter to $500 per player. There was also an additional cost of $500 to pay for the hotel room, gas and inevitable dining out in Grand Junction. The grand total for his 9U season increased to $2,250.

The same thing happened the next year. His team grew more aggressive and they decided to add an out-of-state tournament in Omaha. This is an extremely popular tournament over several days so the cost of hotel rooms were outrageous. No plane tickets were necessary, so the cost of this tournament was $2,000. Add 10 private lessons with a batting coach at $40 per lesson and the grand total that season was $4,150. 

As you can see, the costs start to ramp up.

Skip forward to Jacob’s 11U season and now his team is going to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for an out-of-state tournament.

All other things being equal, and a whopping total cost of $6,000 for the entire family to go to South Carolina, brings the total for that season to $6,150.

At this point, I must project forward his costs and assume, like many kids, he will play in high school and then summer ball. I will assume an annual average cost of $5,000 per year until his senior year of high school.

College Costs

Today, according to my financial planning software, the average cost of room and board for public universities in Colorado is $24,610 – and I believe this to be accurate. Naturally, college costs are rising at a greater rate than inflation. Assuming a 6 percent increase in costs per year, it will take nearly $33,000 per year to go away to college when Jacob graduates from high school.

If my son were to live at home while he went to a local school, just the tuition at the University of Colorado costs $13,782 per year according to College in Colorado’s website. Doing the same math, the cost for just tuition would be $18,590 per year when he is heading into his freshman year of college.

Now, if I assume the amount I paid for competitive baseball was invested in a 529 College Savings Plan with an 8 percent annual rate of return, I would have just over $66,000 tax-free money to spend when Jacob is entering his freshman year of college. The opportunity cost of paying for competitive sports is two years room and board at a Colorado public university or nearly all of tuition for four years if Jacob lived at home and attended the University of Colorado.

If we asked the average family at a baseball game how much money they have saved for college, the results would be alarming. Yet, with parents seemingly willing to pay unlimited amounts for competitive youth sports, there is no end in sight to increasing costs and organizations sweeping in to collect these profits.  When it is all said and done, is four years of tuition worth the competitive youth sports experience?  

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