Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

The cost of youth sports has skyrocketed—can your kids still play?

Jan 04, 2024 03:13PM ● By Greg James

The Outliers are a junior league hockey team that plays several seasons at the Accord Center in West Valley. The junior hockey league focuses on developing players to be drafted into the NHL. (Greg James/City Journals)

There are many opportunities for families that can afford to pay for sports, but the costs are climbing. The gap between those who can afford to pay-to-play and those who cannot is growing wider.

“The cost for everything this year, including team fees, equipment, travel, lodging and tournament fees is up. I probably spend $10k,” Kenny Hart said about his daughter's travel softball team experience. “Next year we are going to Canada in the summer. I will spend $3,000 just for that one tournament with travel and lodging for 10 days.”

Hart’s 15-year-old daughter Kira plays accelerated softball in the summer and fall. She also plays with Grantsville High School in the spring. In the late summer, Stephanie, Kira’s mom, posted on Facebook: “Six hours in the office, five hours driving, four new mosquito bites, three hours watching games, two girls in the back seat and one smile on my kid’s face when she hit the ball over the fence and hit the scoreboard.”

Playing youth sports can be a satisfying experience, but some families have to choose to play or pay the bills. The fees for accelerated sports have become extreme.

“My sixth-grade son tried out and made a seventh-grade AAU basketball team,” said an irate parent who wished to remain anonymous. “The program fees are $1,000, because of the steep cost I approached the team principal and asked if the playing time was going to be even. I was assured on two separate occasions that because the team was not elite and only competed locally everyone gets essentially even minutes. Come the first tournament my son played four minutes in the first game and six minutes in the second game. I asked the coach and he got offensive and asked me not to approach him about playing time.” 

Accelerated teams are not the only ones with high costs. High school teams can be just as expensive.

“In high school, she (Kira) wrestles that is about $500. Her high school softball fees were about $1,000,” Hart said. “I couldn’t do it if I had more than one kid.”

The choices families have to make to provide activities for their children can be enormously difficult. Some choose to stop playing because of the cost, try to work second jobs, or fundraise enough to lessen the burden. 

“We have absolutely had to tell the kids they can’t do everything they wanted to because of the cost,” said Stephanie Taylor, a parent of two cross country runners at Hunter High. “We have several kids and it is impossible to afford it with all of them. Our kids have done sport in shifts.”

Advisors on suggest choosing your children's sports wisely. 

According to a  study, 61% of families say youth sports cause a financial strain. They suggest knowing ahead of time the probable cost.  According to their study ice hockey, skiing, field hockey, gymnastics and lacrosse are the most expensive.

 The UHSAA only supports lacrosse in that group and Cyprus, Granger, and Hunter do not currently have teams. The others are considered club sports, but the local schools do not have a direct affiliation with any of them. The cost could be part of the reason, but diversity may be another. West Valley residents tend to gravitate to football and soccer rather than lacrosse and skiing.

A former Granger High School sophomore transferred to Bingham to play hockey.

“That is where Ed’s friends from his travel team all go to school,” said parent Ed Rappalye. “We went through open enrollment to give him the chance to play.”

The cheapest sports to be involved in according to the website are track and field, cross country and skateboarding. 

Cottonwood Heights’ own skate park, with its coveted lights for nighttime skaters, sees users throughout the day and night, in every season of the year.

There are other ideas to help control sports costs: stay and play locally; resist the urge to join an expensive travel team; skip the brand new equipment; volunteer to coach it may come with a discount; research ways to pay; and set realistic goals. Less than 2% of high school students get a scholarship for college at the Division 1 or 2 level. Most players earn scholarships and college playing opportunities by earning good grades. 

There are many companies like All Kids Play and Every Kids Sports that offer individual and organizational grants to help more youth play.

These organizations encourage players to keep playing citing the countless benefits playtime, exercise, competition and teamwork can have. 

According to, 73% of parents believe sports improve their children's mental health. The benefits of playing children's sports include lower rates of anxiety and depression, lower stress and higher confidence. A University of Kansas study showed that students who participated in high school sports were 10%  more likely to graduate than their peers who did not. 

Many cities offer youth and adult sporting activities. They could include volleyball, pickleball, basketball, flag football and tennis. West Valley City for example maintains 27 parks. The largest city park is Centennial Park with 77.6 acres. Salt Lake County also has Decker Lake and Hunter Park in the city boundaries for residents. 

 The City Parks Alliance maintains that parks help residents maintain a healthy weight and can save them an average of $1,800 per person in healthcare costs. Many experts also claim that a well-maintained park can increase home values nearby. 

There are still good reasons to play sports in accelerated or AAU-type programs.

The competition is better and teams are organized to play against similar-skilled opponents. Applying the skills learned in practice over multiple tournaments and games is beneficial. 

Certified coaches can help your players get better by teaching them the skills they need. Playing time is not guaranteed but by learning and earning their place the players become better.

Playing sports is fun and advanced-level teams can give players the chance to be seen by collegiate coaches and organizations. Players earn opportunities to play at the next level by performing in high-level games. The high school teams are not the place colleges are shopping for talent anymore.

As kids lose opportunities to play with elite teams it also impacts the opportunities to play in city recreation leagues. The number of participants has diminished in recent years. This impacts the communities. The children lose physical activity and social development chances and have a lack of healthy lifestyles. 

“I love to watch my grandkids wrestle. I would pay the cost no matter what,” Dennis Johns said.λ