The High Cost of Kids' Sports

·Claudine Zap

On the phone from Seattle, Sherry Weinberg Cromett ticks off the long list of sports: gymnastics, soccer, swim team, skiing, T-ball. Not to mention tennis, bike riding, and roller-skating. Then the costs: Bike: $200. Gymnastics lessons: $80 a month. Swimming lessons: $75 a month. Soccer season: $75. Ski lessons: $500 for a week at Whistler.

Now multiply all that by two and you've got the beginning of the wallet-gouging bill for parents who want their twin girls involved in athletic activities.

For Sherry and her husband Mark, who both have well-paying jobs, cost was not a game-ender. "We want the kids to be exposed to these things." The working mom added, "We find the most economical way to do it. But it was never a question; it's a matter of how and when and where."

The activities are varied, as she and husband want their twin daughters, who are aged six, to explore many different sports "to see what they like." (Full disclosure: Cromett and this writer attended college -- but played no sports -- together.)

A hidden cost: The challenge for working parents to transport their kids to and from endless activities. The couple work full-time and employ a babysitter to take their daughters, who are on the same schedule, from school to practice. Another added expense: switching out uniforms, shoes, and even equipment mid-season for growing kids.

But even this sizable chunk of cash for kids' activities can look like a relative bargain compared to some of the priciest activities out there.

For parents of elementary school-aged kids who are just getting involved in team sports, there are many years -- and costs -- ahead, depending on how serious the student athletes are about the sports they choose. Expenses often include equipment, uniforms, travel, and private lessons.

Here is a rundown of some of the most expensive sports.

Horse riding
This may be a case of, if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. Not only do parents pony up for private lessons, pricey equipment like horse saddles, bridles, crop, and boots -- but there's the upkeep of boarding a horse. That includes feeding, vet bills, and stall rental. Competition fees add up, too. The hefty bills can tally into the thousands each year, easily. A story in the Daily Mail notes that Bill Gates reportedly spent $50,000 to $75,000 each on four elite jumping horses for daughter Jennifer Gates, along with laying out $50,000 for stables and trainers.

Ice Hockey and Figure Skating
If your little one takes to the ice, prepare to take a beating at the bank. Equipment alone for ice hockey can be upwards of $250. Skating lessons before learning with the stick run around $100 for one session. For beginning figure skaters, the cost of lessons runs slightly more, to $130. But if the hobby turns into a serious sport, costs for coaches, travel, and cross-training can run $1,000 to $3,000 a year.

Recreational sessions run around $15 to $20 per class. Competitive gymnastics sessions typically cost $150 to $300 a month, depending on the hours spent training. Gymnastic camps, like the one offered by Olympic team trainer Bela Karolyi, is $475 for one week.

The game is played by both girls and boys -- and is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with teams starting as young as kindergarten. For boys, the contact sport requires padding and protective gear: gloves, helmet, shoes, chest padding for the goalie, elbow pads, and shoulder pads, along with a lacrosse stick; all that can set parents back $650. The girls' version of the game, closer to the original Native American sport, does not allow body checks. That leaves the stick, which can be as much as $250, a mouth guard, a face guard, and shoes.

Other sports that carry large price tags due to private instruction include golf, swimming, and sailing.