In Youth Sports, Does Cost Prohibit Participation?

If children are shut out of having the opportunity to participate in youth sports due to financial limitations, their life trajectory changes dramatically. The need for equality created through equal access to youth sports is essential for our young athletes. 

Brought to you by
Queen Murray
November 7, 2022
Amateur Athletics

Youth sports is defined as any sports event where competitors are younger than adult age. They participate in athletic events played at the primary and secondary level, as well as events played outside of the education system, whether informally or organized. 

The benefits of youth sports extend beyond the playing field and beyond the participant. Research shows that participating in youth sports can lead to immediate and long-term benefits for minors, their families, and the communities in which they reside. Youth sports have been shown to positively influence mental, emotional, physical and social health along with educational and career success while having a positive economic and communal impact.

Organizations such as The National Youth Sports Strategy aims to unite U.S. youth sports culture around a shared vision: that one day, all youth will have the opportunity, motivation, and access to play sports. The Strategy is based on research and best practices from the scientific community and successful youth sports programs across the United States. It offers actionable ideas for parents, coaches, organizations, communities, and policymakers to support youth sports participation for all.

However, when it comes to funding youth sports, does cost prohibit participation?  Participation rates vary by family income, with youths from lower-income families participating at a lower rate than their higher income peers. 70% of young adults quit youth sports by the age of 13 due to their inability to fund these extracurricular activities. 
It is no secret that family income shapes the sports that our youth participate in. Young adults from higher income families are twice as likely to participate in field hockey, lacrosse, snowboarding, skiing and tennis while other youth from the lower-income spectrum are more likely to participate in football, basketball, and soccer. 

Before these young adults are allowed to step foot onto a field or other sporting venues, “pay-to-play” comes first. Investments in the required uniforms, equipment and protective gear must be obtained, along with a physical exam depending upon league rules. Pay-to-play fees are common in many states. However, some states have different rules on whether public schools are allowed to charge fees for participating in school sports and other extracurricular activities. Let’s not forget to mention that participation fees were virtually non-existent years ago, but now costing hundreds of dollars per child, per sport, per season, and if your child participates in more than one sport, these costs can get steep.  

In some cases, schools provide all the funding needed for sports but in other cases, they attain supplemental resources from families and the community. When supplemental funding is needed for specific sports, most of the additional funding comes from student fundraising and participation fees paid by families. Additional supplement funding sources such a private donations or sponsorship or nonprofit donations are also significant sources. 

Young athletes who are looking to increase skill level with more competitive travel teams may pay even greater amounts depending on the sport. Facility cost, training, equipment, enrollment fees, and coaching can exceed well over $10,000 for children who participate in elite programs. This is unrealistic for families on the lower end of the poverty scale. 

Sports facilities that used to be provided free in schools and public parks have been dropped in many countries. This has resulted in young aspiring athletes needing to join local clubs to gain access to their chosen sport and the subsequent cost of this.

It is no doubt that paying the fees for these extracurricular activities can be a brilliant investment in your young athlete’s future, but is it fair to restrict this opportunity to only those who can afford to pay? Research shows that lack of funding is the number one threat to youth sports. 

Youth sports have become so expensive that 70% of young adults quit by the age of 13. On the local league level, it is usually a simple matter that leagues are set up to be run by volunteers, primarily the players’ parents. They are the coaches, team moms, scorekeepers, board members, concessionaires, groundskeepers, board members, referees and umpires. However, when parents and community residents are unavailable to volunteer due to miscellaneous reasons, the leagues are forced to hire other individuals to do those jobs, leaving the parents struggling to budget the extracurricular activity, or pull their children from the program. 

On the academic athletic league level, 63% of public-school sports budgets are stagnant or decreasing.

High-poverty schools offer 1/3 fewer sports than low-poverty schools. 42% of families of middle- and high-school students who do not participate in sports but are interested in doing so cite unaffordability as the main reason, resulting in a 30% participation gap between children of lower and higher income families. 

Data shows that the rising cost of organized sports has created an economic divide in which children from lower-income homes are increasingly priced out of the game. The dramatic growth of travel leagues, which have lowered the age at which kids compete in a single year-round sport, only exacerbates the divide, as underprivileged kids who cannot afford to try out quit sports altogether.

There is real money being thrown at youth sports today and, whenever there is money involved, the motive starts to change and instead of focusing on having a good, quality program, the dictators running the leagues begin to choose children who can afford to pay for the tournaments. 

If children are shut out of having the opportunity to participate in youth sports due to financial limitations, their life trajectory changes dramatically. For those residing in lower-income neighborhood’s, this exclusion could be detrimental to their choices, futures, and livelihood. 

It is no doubt that sports make people better. The benefits of youth athletics are extensive and favorable in encouraging discipline and building strong minds, and being that the children are our future, it is our duty as adults to guide them toward their potentials and create opportunities that allow them be the best individuals they can possibly be. 

The need for equality created through equal access to youth sports is essential for our young athletes. 

As adults who will one day be governed by our children, we should prioritize promoting youth sports equity. We would be giving children an opportunity to pursue paths and go beyond their reach through youth sports, that would otherwise be deemed unattainable. Youth athletics opens doors to provide children with college scholarships that can be used to provide further education.   

We can encourage youth sports equity by:


Getting our children involved and boosting participation by promoting the benefits and access to sports opportunities.

Communal effort

Ensuring safe play spaces are easily accessible for all youth and are in driving and/or walking distance, and collaborating with academic institutes and/or public health organizations to evaluate programs.

Meeting with policy leaders

At the local level, policies implemented in schools can impact sports opportunities.

According to the National Youth Sports Strategy, over one-third of states have legislation governing participation fees for school sports. These laws can dictate whether schools can implement participation fees for school sports.

By seeking out and supporting public- and private-sector partnerships, identifying and providing grants, funding opportunities, and other resources to support youth sports programs, and supporting policies that facilitate access to youth sports and facilities, we could all participate in changing lives. 

News you can use

If your child’s school is charging fees for equipment or participation in sports or other activities, it is important to speak with school officials regarding whether those fees are even required. In some cases, pay-to-play fees are voluntary, but that is usually not information volunteered to students or parents. If the fees are required but you cannot afford them, ask questions regarding the school’s waiver policy. You may also want to speak with an attorney who can explain whether the fees are legal in your state and, if not, what legal options you may have.

*JRZY creates economic opportunity for athletes by facilitating sponsorships and income opportunities for athletes. If this article resonates with you, consider joining and sharing with athletes and parents who may benefit from some assistance in helping make sure our athletes are reaching their dreams.