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Playing Sports Is Getting Too Expensive for Many Kids’ Families

Organized sports are really expensive, and informal practice grounds are disappearing

smithsonian.com

Image: Douglas

If you’ve ever seen a kids sports movie, you know that there’s nothing more uplifting than seeing the underdog kids win the big title—proving that heart and talent can trump facilities and rich parents any day. But that plot line is becoming more and more fictional each day. Organized sports are expensive, and informal practice grounds are disappearing.

Bruce Kelly and Carl Carchia at ESPN Magazine took a look at some data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, and found that while lots of kids are playing sports, it’s pretty easy to tell which kids:

But we also see starkly what drives the very earliest action: money. The biggest indicator of whether kids start young, Sabo found, is whether their parents have a household income of $100,000 or more.

When you look at demographic data from cities, you see the same thing. “Living in poor corners of cities culls even more kids from sports. Nationwide, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, only a quarter of eighth- to 12th-graders enrolled in the poorest schools played school sports,” they write.

John Greenya at Pacific Standard spoke with Darryl Hill, the first African American to play football in the Atlantic Coast Conference when he joined the University of Maryland team in 1963. “Free play has disappeared,” he said. “There are no more sandlot sports.” Hill is trying to fix that. He founded Kids Play USA Foundation, an organization that tries to remove the financial barriers that might keep kids from playing sports. Their website explains the challenges they face:

Today playing organized youth sports has a price tag. Expenses such as team enrollment fees, equipment and uniform costs, travel and other expenses are often substantial and are beyond the already stretched budget of many families. Consequently, their children are not able to play on organized youth teams resulting in a significant portion of America’s children not being engaged in sports and recreation. They are often idle and alone and their number is growing. Kids Play USA is committed to changing this.

The price tag of sports isn’t news to parents. Between joining fees, equipment, uniforms and travel many sports cost parents thousands of dollars a year. Not quite the backyard football, or alleyway basketball that the movies depict.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How Politics Has Changed Modern-Day Sports
In Sports, Winning Streaks Are Just Flukes

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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