Inflation, rising fees are pricing families, kids out of organized sports

Mohammed Hussain has three children who play on hockey teams. 'It takes a chunk out of your paycheque,' the Edmonton father says. (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)
Mohammed Hussain has three children who play on hockey teams. 'It takes a chunk out of your paycheque,' the Edmonton father says. (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)

Mohammed Hussain's three children are all in organized sports.

His 14-year-old daughter and two sons, aged 12 and eight, are on hockey teams, and he is upfront about how expensive that can be.

"It takes a chunk out of your paycheque," the Edmonton man said.

"We feel a punch with the equipment right now. Kids grow like weeds at this age group," Hussain said. "We haven't even gotten into fuel charges ... how much gas people are spending just trying to get the games in. With three kids, we're all over the city."

He said his family is absorbing rising costs due to inflation by cutting back on certain things.

"We're probably down to only one vacation," Hussain said. "Really cutting back on how much we eat out as well, just to be able to save that."

Registration fees for youth sports can often be hundreds of dollars and go up as children get older. On top of that, families have to pay for gas, which has hit record-high prices this year, to drive to practices and tournaments. When the cost of equipment is factored in, families can easily pay thousands of dollars per child a year.

Peter Evans/CBC
Peter Evans/CBC

Katelinn Adams says her 10-year-old daughter, Kaylee Delaney, enjoyed playing Timbits soccer when she was younger, but when she outgrew the program, Adams couldn't afford to sign Kaylee up for a local team.

"Sometimes there's programs that you could enter into, but there's either a wait list because somebody else has gotten there ahead of time or there is a deadline that we missed," Adams, of Edmonton, said.

"I feel bad. You want to give your kids the world, right? And you never want to tell them no to wanting to do a sport or fun activity."

The rising cost of everything from food to fuel isn't making the situation any easier, Adams said. "It is completely out of reach."

Rising costs

David Legg, a health and physical education professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the cost of participating in youth sports is rising for a couple of reasons.

Many sports organizations folded during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, and those that survived increased their prices to accommodate for more cleaning, a lower number of participants and increased staffing costs.

"In addition to that, just because of some supply chain issues, I also think the cost of equipment has increased as well," Legg said.

Colin Hall/CBC
Colin Hall/CBC

KidSport Canada, a national not-for-profit organization that helps families pay for registration fees and equipment for sports programs, is expecting high demand ahead, CEO Greg Ingalls said.

"I would anticipate that we'll start to see those [application] numbers increasing once again on an annual basis," he said.

Ingalls said that in 2019, KidSport Canada paid for registration fees for more than 40,000 kids by raising $8.7 million. Applications fell during the pandemic, but he said the organization is starting to see a return to 2019 numbers. And with inflation taking a big bite out of families' budgets, he expects the number of applications to rise even further.

Over the past five years, more than $40 million has been raised to help fund grants for kids across the country, and 188,000 have received assistance so they can take part in a sport, according to KidSport Canada's website.

Justin Pennell/CBC
Justin Pennell/CBC

Ingalls said some sports organizations are starting to adapt and be more affordable for families.

"We are seeing the growth of some lower-cost sport options for kids to play sport and lower commitment options, where [it's] more of a once- or twice-a-week program as opposed to four or five or six days a week and less travel," he said.

Benefits for children

Ingalls said there are benefits for young people who participate in organized sports.

"Sport provides an opportunity for kids to learn life skills that they'll take with them the rest of their life — things like how to be a good teammate, how to make friends, how to set goals for yourself," he said.

Nota Klentrou, whose work in exercise physiology focuses on sport training in children and youth, said physical activity improves cardiovascular health, builds bone strength and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.

"Sports participation is the best way to encourage and retain children in physical activity because it's structured," said Klentrou, a kinesiology professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. "It provides some competition, which children enjoy."