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The High Cost Of Competitive Pre-H.S. Sports

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Competitive sports are starting earlier and costing more than ever. So, we're taking a look at how much families are really paying to play in some of the most popular sports.

While costs for park and rec leagues are generally under $100 a season, we looked at what it takes financially to do a sport at a top level in the years before high school.

What we found is startling. Many Minnesota parents are spending thousands of dollars a year for their children to compete.

Shawn Reid is on the ice coaching his 11-year-old son Aksels' PeeWee team - on the next sheet of ice is another Reid son, 13-year old-Laches. His Minneapolis PeeWee team is one of the best in the state.

The two boys play year-round. That equals a big hockey bill at the Reid house.

"We spend between $8,000 and $10,000 a year when you add up the cost of tournaments, gas, food, registrations and all that. We make sacrifices as a family. We feel it's worth it," Shawn Reid said.

By playing year-round, the Reid's hockey costs are doubled. Shawn Reid is not just another hockey dad, too. He's the coach of the two-time state champion Blake girls' hockey team.

He says without doing some form of year-round training, the odds of making it on a high school team are low.

"If they want to be successful high school hockey players, they need to do more than just one season," Shawn Reid said.

However, it's not just hockey. The push towards year-round training and to specialize is just one reason the costs of youth sports is rising

In Stillwater on any winter night, you'll find a dome full of youth soccer players training - including an elite U-13 team. Two of the players – 12-year-old twins Laney and Avery Murdzek -- say they love training 4 to 5 days a week year-round.

At first, their father, Randy, couldn't tell me how much he is spending. He said it was definitely more than $2,000 a year per child. In the end, he estimated his annual soccer bill is $8,000 a year. And while that figure may bring sticker shock, we found parents in many sports spending big money, like skiing.

Equipment costs, program fee and lift tickets are among the reasons a season of competitive downhill skiing for a pre-high school child is about $4,000 a year.

One of the fastest growing youth sports is competitive dance.

At the highly-regarded Larkin dance studio in Maplewood, 11-year-old Sara Gutz has won national competitions. Her mom, Cindy Gutz, drives or carpools 60 miles round trip, seven days a week, to get to the studio. While the basic tuition is $3,000 a year, the extras – out-of-state competitions, private lessons, costume and commuting -- adds up to $12,000 a year. Add in younger sister Ashley and this family's dance bill is a staggering $20,000 a year.

Their mother says it's worth it.

"They are great dancers. They love what they are doing. She is a great student," Cindy Gutz said. "They learn discipline, self-esteem and confidence."

Competitive dance is not alone. Annual costs easily top $10,000 a year for youth gymnasts, tennis players and figure skaters.

"The cost of youth sports has dramatically risen over the last two or three decades where some families are spending over 10.5 percent of their gross income on funding their children's sports," University of Minnesota Professor Nicole Lavoi said.

Lavoi studies the sociology of youth sports.

"The more they play year-round the more likely they are to have acute and chronic injuries or they will burn out and quit the sport," Lavoi said.

Lavoi says studies show some parents are driven by a misguided belief that their child will get a college scholarship. In fact, 0.5 percent of high school athletes get full rides.

Studies also show that 66 percent of young athlete's parents think their child will make a high school team.

"If you take 1,000 youth soccer players in any community and 660 think they are going to be on a high school team, I don't know of any high school team that has 660 players," Lavoi said.

Families WCCO spoke with say they are being realistic.

At Twin Cities Twisters Gymnastics club in Champlin, 13-year-old Elena Deets practices four hours a day, five days a week. Her family spends $7,000 a year. They save another $3,000 in team fees by working 72 hours at local meets.

"We are not investing in gymnastics as a college scholarship, we are investing in Elena as an individual. We are still saving for her college education," her dad, Tim, said.

For Shawn Reid, it's an investment in character.

"It's more than just hockey. They are learning life lessons. They are learning how to be on a team. They are learning different roles on a team," Reid said.

The soccer playing Murdzek twins' dad agrees.

"It builds their sense of self-esteem. They are very confident. It's priceless if you ask me," Randy Murdzek said.

Some travel sports cost significantly less.

Parents are spending between $500 to $1000 a season for travel basketball, lacrosse, baseball and softball.

Patty Brills, who coached high school gymnastics and whose daughter Summer earned a D1 scholarship for tennis, recommends kids start out in less expensive park and rec leagues.

"Find out more about what their interests are before you start sinking money into something specific. Find something they are passionate about," Brills said.

At the end of the day, no matter what a parent spends, the child has to be on board.

"The kid has got be passionate. They have got to love it," Brills said.

In the kids WCCO met, there was little question of that.

"All I like to and always want to do is dance," dancer Sara Gutz said.

"At the end of the day it's just worth it," gymnast Elena Deets said.

Hockey player Lachen Reid said simply, "yes, definitely I love it."

Many traveling youth associations offer scholarships.

The least expensive competitive team sport for middle school students might surprise you -- football. Fees and equipment for that sport generally cost less than $300 a season.


Seasonal cost traveling and elite youth sports (including extras like equipment, travel, overnight tournaments):

Downhill Skiing: $4,000
Hockey: $2,600
Travel Soccer: $2,200- $4,000 (This figure includes cost of year round supplemental training increasingly required by traveling soccer team.)
Travel Baseball: $800
Travel Basketball: $600
Travel Lacrosse: $600
Football: $200
Sports where year-round training is the norm (Figure skating, Competitive Dance, Tennis, Gymnastics): $5,000 to upwards of $10,000

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