Sport on Saturdays: This is why kids aren't playing sport anymore.

“When I was eight, my main life goal was to be a tap dancer. There was only one problem – we couldn’t afford the lessons.”





When I was eight, my main life goal was to be a tap dancer. I desperately wanted to take up tap-dancing, and I had great faith in my own ability to take it beyond my childhood and into a career.

There was only one problem – we couldn’t afford the lessons.

I begged, I pleaded, I offered to swap out my pocket money for tap shoes. But we didn’t have the spare cash to give to another term’s worth of dancing lessons, and I had to give up on the tap-dancing dream.

The good part of this story was that I really wasn’t missing out. I already did ballet, jazz and musical theatre lessons, as well as weekly swimming lessons and the odd tennis school holiday camp.

But I was a lucky kid. A kid whose parents could afford to say yes to some things, and no to other things.

There are a lot of kids out there whose parents have to say no to everything. They’re not playing footy, or cricket, or soccer, or doing karate or dancing lessons. They’re not playing any sport – just because so much of it has become so prohibitively expensive.

A few weeks ago, a recent poll in Canada made news when it found that a third of Canadian kids, aged between three and 17, don’t participate in organised sport because of the equipment and registration fees involved – 61% of parents said that enrolment fees were the main issue, and 52% said equipment costs were holding them back.


The parents who could afford organised sport reported that they were spending about $1000 per child, per year – mostly on soccer, swimming and basketball.

Low income families are less likely to play sport outside of school.

It’s a similar story here in Australia. In 2011, a South Australian study by academic Carol Maher found that children from low-income families are far less likely to play sport outside of school – per day, children from low-income families were getting 25 less minutes of physical activity than children from families with more money.

I had a chat to four different parents, each from different socio-economic backgrounds, to find out just how much they’re spending on sport per child – and whether or not they find the cost to be prohibitive. Each parent told a very different story, but each agreed on two things:

1) That most kids don’t just run around in the park anymore – it’s really either organised and registered sport, or nothing (outside of school, anyway); and

2) When parents are financially struggling, organised kids sport is the first thing to go.

KYLIE: Has two kids – one boy (Dec), one girl (Cam).

Dec, 14, does surfing and skateboarding, as well as footy and cricket for school and club teams. Cam, 12, does swimming, soccer, gymnastics & pony club.

Kids’ sport costs our family close to 4K a year, arrrgh. Swimming is the biggest culprit, but gymnastics (in which she also competes occasionally) and pony club certainly aren’t cheap either.

I do find the cost prohibitive but we can afford it and my husband and I really value sport. I do wince every time I pay for a $700 pony club camp… but against that, if we have the money I’d MUCH rather spend it on my kids being able to do something active they enjoy than a better car or fancy clothes.

I think a lot of people would think we were nuts to spend that much on sport – especially as neither child will be going to the Olympics – but it’s something that bonds our family together too. My husband coaches Dec’s cricket team and is runner for his footy team; I drive Cam to all her games & meets and am president of her swim club. Of course, this only works if the kids are doing it because they enjoy it and not because of their parents’ wishes (I see plenty of pushy sports parents).

Bottom line is that I think sport is definitely worth it – but I admit that maybe that’s because we can afford it (we both work). If I was really stretched to pay for it Cam wouldn’t be doing four sports!

KATE: Has three kids, two girls (Annabel and Sally) and a boy (Ben).

Both our girls play hockey (about $300 a season) and Ben plays AFL (similar cost). There’s not too much in terms of equipment other than mouthguards and boots – $60 to $100 a pair. However, as kids get (not much) older, sport-related travel becomes a big thing. Ben’s AFL U12 side went to Melbourne last year – not compulsory but encouraged. A parent needs to go too so that was probably a $1200 for a long weekend.

Annabel had been doing gymnastics but once she turned 10 it was going to be two nights a week (7 to 9pm) and $400 a term ($1600 a year) and she was lukewarm about it so we gave it a miss. If she was super-talented and dead keen she might have continued but it wasn’t an issue in the end.

I do know families who have 4 kids close together in age for whom the cost of sport is huge and puts them off, especially when the kids are very little. $1200 for four little boys to play rugby? Plus boots and jerseys and mouthguards? When parents have to volunteer to coach and manage and man the canteen etc etc… why not buy a Wii?

BERN: Has two boys (Jack and Sam) and a girl (Maddie).


Jack is 7 and a sports nut. He plays AFL, soccer and cricket which all roughly cost around the $400 each per year. Sam, 12, isn’t so sporty but at his school they have these “added activities”- so he does swimming, ($150 x 4 per year) karate, $150 x 4 per year, Yoga, $150 x 2 per year, hip hop dancing $150 x 2.

Shit, that’s a lot – which I probably don’t notice as much because I’m always just paying Sam’s school fees by installments.

We have had to tell Jack that he can only play one sport per term, so he has to pick which one he likes best. When we were struggling financially this time last year, Jack didn’t do any other sports, it was (unfortunately) one of the first things we had to cut even though I love the benefits it has, especially for him.

JO: Has two boys and one girl.

I desperately wanted my kids to do tae kwon do because there is a really good centre in my area – but it would have cost $1200, per child! The uniforms and gradings and memberships are also really expensive. My daughter really wants to do dancing with her cousin but the cost of her school is astronomical so I have her in a more affordable dance class. It’s such a shame.

At the moment we do swimming ($206 per month for 3 kids), soccer ($300 for the season through the school) and toddler ballet ($140 per term).The kids in my area normally do a summer sport and a winter sport but summer sports are incredibly expensive, like tennis which I would love my kids to do but we just can’t afford it.

If they ever start charging us to use parks, I’m stuffed!

Has the cost of sport ever prevented you from enrolling your kids in a sport? Did it prevent you from playing sport when you were young?

And in other sports news from the week…

– The second World Youth Olympics have been held in China, and Australian Brittany Dutton managed to win Australia’s first gold medal in the women’s triathlon – and our Australian Rugby Sevens team also managed to score themselves a gold medal in their grand final game against Canada. Congratulations to everyone competing at the Youth Olympics.

– GREAT news from Football Federation Australia this week – our women’s football teams have received a grant from FIFA, and will now be investigating a national and girls development program to help more girls get into football.

– The Pan Pacific championship heats were also held on the Gold Coast on Thursday, and some of our Aussie swimmers have managed to make their way into the finals, including Emily Seebohm and Madeline Groves. Congratulations, girls!

– This isn’t strictly sports news, but dual Australian cricket/soccer player (and general all-round champion), Ellyse Perry, has just become engaged to be married. Her boyfriend of two years, rugby union player Matt Toomua, proposed on Thursday. Congratulations, Ellyse. If the two of you have babies, I imagine they will be ridiculously good at sport.