Economics

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Study: Cost of Sports Keeps Sidelining Kids

22 Jan, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
More Lower Income Families Citing Participation Costs, Including Equipment and Travel, as Problem

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. A recent study shows the ever-increasing cost of sports participation keeps many parents from enrolling their children in teams.

According to the latest University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, a total of 42 percent of parents surveyed said at least one of their middle or high school children participated in school sports during the 2013-14 school year. However, the survey notes, there were substantial differences in participation based on household income.

A summary of the report by Sports One Source quoted research scientist Sarah Clark, M.P.H. as noting that only 30 percent of lower-income families (those making less than $60,000 per year) have a child playing school sports. This compares to 51 percent participation among families earning more than $60,000 per year, according to the poll.

Clark, who does research at the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at the University of Michigan and who is associate director of the National Poll on Children's Health, says the findings are significant; notably, among the 58 percent of parents whose child did not play school sports at all, 14 percent cited cost as the reason for non-participation.

"Participation in school sports offers so many benefits to children and teens, from lower dropout rates to improved health and reduced obesity. It is significant to have one in seven parents of non-sports participants indicate that cost is keeping their kid out of the game," says Clark.

The poll found the average school sports participation fee was $126 per child; while 38 percent paid $0 in participation fees—some receiving waivers for those fees—18 percent paid $200 or more.

In addition to the participation fees, parents in the poll reported an average of $275 in other sports-related costs like equipment and travel.

"So the average cost for sports participation was $400 per child. For many families, that cost is out of reach," Clark says.

If anything, the problem is just getting worse. Researchers found that the 2014 sports participation figures among lower-income students had decreased by 10 percent from the same study conducted in 2012.

Even higher-income parents are immune to the financial pinch. Among those in households earning more than $60,000 a year, nearly 10 percent said their child had decreased sports participation because of cost – twice as high as reported in 2012.

"Many schools base participation fee waivers on eligibility for income-based programs like Medicaid or free and reduced lunch. That could exclude working families who earn too much for a waiver but may not be able to afford the additional cost of sports fees, and that's what we see in these findings" Clark says.

"School administrators struggle to balance the budget for school sports without creating obstacles to participation. This poll shows the need for schools to continue to work on options for both low-income families, and families that don't qualify for waivers but still may need financial help, because the risk of kids dropping out of sports is very real."

The full report is available at this link.

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