I’ve reached the ‘how does anybody afford youth sports?!’ level of parenting

OPINION: I’m hoping my sons’ soccer aspirations pay off big time so we can offset the insanely high costs we will spend on youth sports travel. 

(Photo by Louis-Photo/Adobe Stock Photos)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

One of my favorite things to do nowadays is watch two of my kids play soccer. I’ve written more than a few times about this recent sports journey two of my boys are on and how it turned me into an impromptu soccer coach. Since then, though, my boys have tried out for and made travel soccer teams at their ages (Under-9 and Under-8). We’re wrapping up their first spring season playing travel soccer and I’ve seen so much growth and development that I know we made the right choice. I realize there’s a lot of conversation in the parent-sphere about specializing too early and burning out your kids, but so far so good in our house. My kids like playing all of the sports but they LOVE playing soccer. 

And thank goodness — the cost of this passion is mind-boggling. I used to spend my time googling esoteric and asinine topics like, “definitive answer does lloyd say fine too or 5′ 2” need ASAP” but now all I’m searching for is “how in the hell do parents pay for youth sports?” 

Every day, b. Every day. 

I’m not joking, either. My search history is littered with some variation of this question and I’ve probably read every result imaginable. Not to mention, I have my own observations as we hit “checkout” on monthly payments that rival car notes for really nice cars. The question is earnest, too — I truly wonder who in the world can afford the costs for all of these travel teams? And conversely, who is priced out? I’ve queried the homies who also have kids in various sports and it seems like the costs are all in the same-ish range. What is that range? Expensive, plain and simple. I have two kids who are passionate about and really good at soccer. They seem to enjoy it in the kind of way that makes you think there could be a future here, whether that be playing in college or professionally — soccer is their bag. That’s the ONLY reason to pay these outlandish prices. 

But let me tell you, if they even pump-fake on not liking soccer anymore I’m immediately stopping payments and we’re moving on to frisbee or something. Just as a point of note because I can hear some of you looking at me like, “Panama, it probably ain’t even that bad, bro!” let me break down some of the costs. 


At their current ages of 8 and 9, we have to pay over $2,000 per year per kid to register to play for their clubs for the year (fall, winter-ish, spring). That doesn’t include uniforms or travel. And while I feel very fortunate to be in a position to make that happen, it does make me wonder how many kids are priced out of these opportunities. My kids, who are very likely to continue to play for years to come, are going to cost us tens of thousands of dollars, and I know this in advance. But, despite being gainfully employed, those costs are closer to prohibitive than they aren’t; they definitely make me sit up and consider not only if it’s worth it but whether or not it prohibits us from paying for other activities, like piano or tennis. Paying hundreds of dollars a month for multiple activities adds up. Choices must be made because my kids can’t eat my love for hip-hop.

And that gets to the main question of who doesn’t get the chance to play organized sports in this fashion because of the insane costs. I know the local elementary school and middle schools in my neighborhood have football teams; I imagine there is some cost, of course, but I’m guessing there is a lot of help from the city government to subsidize those costs. I’m ALSO sure that if your kid doesn’t want to play football or basketball, your kid is out of luck. The other sports like swimming, golf, soccer, lacrosse, etc. probably trend highly in largely white, suburban enclaves. Or if you’re like us, you make a way for your kids once you realize they’re good at a thing. Which we will continue to do as long as it makes sense, but I’d be lying if I said the costs to participate (at their current club and any other club — my kids were invited to join other clubs and the costs are all the same) didn’t make me wince and consider that maybe it’s all too much too soon. Then again, if we don’t keep them in a truly developmental system, they’ll be behind the kids who do. Oh, the joys of super-gifted children.

Maybe one day, this will all be moot. Perhaps a decade from now, my boys will each sign billion-dollar contracts with foreign clubs as the highest-paid American players of all time. Until then, I will continue to wonder how so many people have so much money when I know the price of my soap has been creeping up and McDonald’s seems to be upping its prices. Life is getting more costly and that has to be affecting everybody but the richest of the rich. But I guess all of us have the same thought; maybe soccer will take my kid places I won’t be able to so we find a way or make one.

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.