Why the pricing out of youth sports so personal

The NYTimes opinion story today on youth sports being a multi-billion dollar industry that prices out poor, urban & rural kids is indeed a personal one to me. I reflect a lot on my own childhood experience learning to play tennis in public programs that were low cost or no cost to participants. This access enabled me a relatively low risk to try something that no one in my family had any real context for, because we didn’t know anyone who had previously played tennis save for randomly picking up a racket and playing at the park with a friend.

While eventually now looks back as though my tennis playing was some kind of accepted thing, it wasn’t and my parents were afraid it was going to be expensive and that I wouldn’t stick with it. It turns out 1) it was not expensive and 2) I did stick with it. It wasn’t only access to coaching, it was the prolifteraton of programs that included year-round playing that also helped tennis stick. This was around the same time the internet started to really bubble up and even with tennis, marching band, and whatever school activities I participated in, I still managed to make all sorts of far-flung friends online arond the same time.

Without getting me out of the house in tennis, I feel like I’d have spent more time on the computer and less time outside engaging with people I’d never have gotten to know otherwise. The other thing is, tennis literally helped me move away from home, at different times of life it supplemented my income and helped me adapt in new communities. None of this would’ve been possible had things gone differently. I’m not of the opinion that all kids need sports, cultural activities like music and a wide range of other activities are a good balance for young people to discover themselves, learn how to practice and perform and grow confidence. Working together and being part of a team — whether it’s a play, a band, or simply helping put something together — is such an invaluable part of growing up.

The fact we’ve stopped investing in these areas of life makes me sad, because everywhere in the country, activity fees proliferate increasingly strapped school districts who attempt to do more with less. This pain is felt through booster clubs who supplement, volunteers who invest their time and kids themselves who sacrifice to play the games they love with their friends. It’s just sad to me that we’ve decided to take this approach to youth activities in a single generation.

February 15, 2024