Monday, December 15, 2008

Youth sports on an unlimited budget

My younger son is going to Florida for spring break with his 15 best buddies - the high school baseball team. They'll spend five days at Disney's Sports Complex in Orlando, queing up for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, dining on chicken fingers and playing ball. The price tag will be upwards of $700. No complaint here. The kids will have a blast. And I've spent much more indulging my kids' - and my own - sports passions and gotten less in return.

The point is that, as we know, kids sports have become shockingly costly and, even in the dark days of recession, these expenses show no sign of moderating. I've written in this space about $250 kids baseball bats that I and many others are quick to pay for. Today, I'm posting a compendium of youth sports charges that appeared in an excellent piece in SmartMoney in 2006.

Spoiled Sports?
Few kids have the DNA of an Eli Manning or a Patrick Ewing Jr. But many parents hope their young athletes can compete on an elite level with papering like this.
Average cost: $600 - $750
Maybe Junior scarfed too many Big Macs during the off-season. Or he's lacking in lateral quickness. At Sedona Private Fitness in Cedar Grove, N.J., gym owner Joe Hughes offers a 10-session "scholastic athlete" training program to help your child "peak" at the right time. Of course, says Hughes, "despite not having a personal trainer, I turned out just fine."
Average cost: $1,500 - $3,000
Most kids just need comfortable equipment that will protect against injury. Got an elite player? Get ready to invest in high-end gear like ultralight $640 Easton Stealth S15 composite skates, a $170 Nike Bauer helmet complete with "ergo translucent ear covers," custom-molded body pads, and the piece de resistance — a $360 composite hockey stick.
Average cost: $1,000 - $3,000
If your budding all-star needs more competitive play than she can get locally, the travel-team tab typically buys access to nicer playing facilities, more-experienced coaching and maybe a fancy uniform. But logging the miles won't guarantee that your child will get her minutes. Unlike rec leagues, most travel squads don't give their members equal playing time.
Average cost: $2,500 - $4,200
City-hopping with the travel team not enough? Coast to Coast Amateur Athletics organizes camps in Europe, Puerto Rico and Australia. But its Baseball Director Chip Stahl says learning abroad won't necessarily make your kid a world-class talent: "There really aren't any advantages to playing outside the States." But hey, it can be a terrific cultural experience.
Average cost: $300 - $400
The latest bats cost more because they're fashioned from new alloys and composites that aren't yet in mass production. "We have to do battle with the aerospace industry to get the materials to make those bats," says Louisville Slugger spokesperson Rick Redman. The performance difference from last year's (less-expensive) hot new material? Probably negligible."

I am a hopelessly easy mark when it comes to spending on my kids sports endeavors. (I recently counted eight bat bags in the garage). What about you? Can you think of a time when you drew the line on a youth sports expense? Passed up the travel team trip to Palm Springs? Turned thumbs down on the $120 official team duffel bag? Send in your answers and I will forward the names of the most fiscally prudent to the Obama transition team as candidates for high posts in the Treasury Department.

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