Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Despite soccer being a simple game requiring little equipment, it has morphed into a rather expensive sport. When our kids are under ten we can get by with minimal costs. Most soccer shops will offer inexpensive packages of cleats, shin guards and ball for around $50, but those costs quickly spiral into double and triple the amount as kids get older. The costs for training escalate depending on the type of club team your child plays for. The further up the skill level our children travel the higher the costs rise. If you change clubs you’ll have to change uniforms which often include a number of peripheral items such as warm-ups and soccer bags. Utilitarian cleats give way to high end boots which are specialized to playing position and ironically cost more the lighter they become. Apparently removing materials somehow increases manufacturing costs. Naturally the more players become advanced the more they have to travel to find equal or stronger competition, so those costs need to be added to uniforms, cleats, training and ancillary equipment. Some clubs will include fees for coaches’ travel in the club dues, but other clubs will ask every family to contribute an amount each trip. The final financial insult comes if your family decides to travel with your child.
What began as a simple $100 to $200 yearly expense can suddenly explode to 20 times that amount. It’s a subtle increase at first, and then before we know it we’re writing checks in rapid succession being rushed along a money trail with no stops and no exits. So how do we pay for this? Some people may be lucky enough to absorb the costs, but most people will need a plan to handle the assault to their finances. There’s several ways to make this work, but we have to be proactive and definitely not shy about pursuing possibilities that ease the burden.
Many clubs have financial plans for families. These may be in the form of scholarships, payment plans and substituting volunteer hours for fees. My main advice is to not be shy about asking. We may feel embarrassed to seek help, but you’d be surprised how many families can’t handle the expenses without some assistance, especially if they have multiple players in the family. So call the club treasurer or president prior to try-outs to discover how the organization handles paying fees. Don’t be afraid that your questions will somehow interfere with your child being selected. Clubs understand that they need the best players to have a winning record to attract more top players and significantly more paying families. So they are usually happy to work out payments without putting parents on the spot or dismissing their children because they might not pay up all at once. Clubs make money from their fees, but a big money maker for most clubs are tournaments, which require a huge number of volunteers to make them run smoothly and be attractive to the best teams to enter. Clubs will generally have a volunteer requirement which must be met to be a member, but those requirements often barely meet the minimum needs for tournament personnel. So clubs will also offer a reduction in club fees for extra volunteer work. Bruce agreed to help mow the fields once a week in return for lowered fees in our case. A club may also offer scholarships in return for significant continual volunteering such as painting lines weekly, running concessions, cleaning bathrooms and clubhouses, etc. It actually makes good financial sense for the club who would pay far more to hire people to do these jobs than they give in fee credits. Occasionally clubs will have a fund raising event and give credits on dues if a family reaches certain fund raising goals.
It’s not unfair to ask our children to help out with these fees. They may appreciate the opportunities offered to them more if they have a financial stake in the outcomes. Kids can earn a referee license at age 12 to oversee U6 to U10 games with a minimal amount of training offered through your state referee association. The fees they earn aren’t significant, but if they work two or three games a weekend they can earn $30 to $40. After a month they’ve covered the cost of a uniform. They can continue to earn more advanced referee qualifications which leads to higher pay. As they get older they can also earn a coaching certificate. By earning a “D” license Bryce netted a fair amount of money in high school giving private goal keeping clinics to young kids in the club. If you live in a city or near a city with a professional or college team, they will probably run summer camps and require teen counselors. Kids can make several hundred dollars over the season depending on how many camps they work. The place we spend a lot of money is the local soccer store, so once kids reach employable age, usually 15 or 16 in most states, they should apply to work at the store. Not only can they make money, but they will also benefit from employee discounts to help defray costs.
I ended up getting a second job to help pay for the boys. I was lucky enough to get a job in soccer first as the administrator of Bryce and Robbie’s soccer club and then with the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development program. The pay wasn’t great, but it was enough to help out with our travel expenses, allowing us to go as a family to most away tournaments. Some parents in our club took part-time jobs at places like the Hallmark store or the local grocery to earn just enough to cover expenses associated with select soccer.
There are actually scholarships out there to cover costs for soccer players. Most are sponsored by the clubs themselves. An internet search with the keywords “scholarships for soccer club fees” produced information and applications for scores of club teams. Adding a regional keyword like your city or your state should help narrow the search. Locating a club which offers financial assistance can help a family locate the most financially responsible options for try-outs. Additionally many of the ethnic clubs underwrite their select teams so that club fees can be more on the youth recreational level rather than the stratosphere of most select clubs. When Bryce played for United Serbians, our fees for the year were only $150 which included coaching and uniforms. We paid extra for tournaments and travel. Occasionally clubs can apply for community grants to provide scholarships for their players. Checking those out and writing up a grant for your club could end up returning big dividends.
Generally scholarships only cover training fees and not travel, so families need to find ways to afford those costs. There’s economy in numbers. We parents need to help one another out by sharing the expenses. Players can travel with other players and share hotel rooms. We usually had at least two other teammates with us on every trip. Putting three or four boys in one room greatly reduced the costs for families and “car-pooling” to tournaments saved many families from the expensive costs of driving just their own child to an event. The team can get together for meals and order pizzas to eat in the lobby or sub sandwiches between games, reducing the food costs substantially. Even better a group of parents might grocery shop and buy the makings for sandwiches once arriving at the tournament. Getting bulk sports drinks from a big box store also saves money. If a team must fly, have a parent coordinate a group rate for the team. This can be a substantial savings over regular airfares. Groups can be as small as ten, so a soccer team would certainly qualify for these special rates. Arranging for 15 passenger vans when you land is often far less expensive than every family renting separate vehicles. These large vans are also good for those longer road trips saving on transportation costs.
Finally soccer equipment can be very expensive, especially with the quarterly release of the latest professional soccer player sponsored cleats. However, if you need to keep costs down you can turn to organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army who generally have a rather large selection of soccer boots. They won’t be the fanciest pair around, but they’ll grip the turf just as well. I would avoid used shin guards as there are concerns about fungus. But you can get relatively inexpensive shin guards at stores like Wal-Mart, Dick’s or Sports Authority. You don’t need the FIFA or MLS branded pair. Clubs can help expenses by sticking with the same uniform for as long as possible. Every fall they can sponsor a uniform exchange where players who have outgrown their kit can pass it down to younger players. Old numbers can be removed and changed at the local soccer store for a nominal fee, so no need to worry in that regard. The exchanges could also include balls, goalie gloves, warm-ups, and bags. There’s no need to break the bank to be outfitted to play.
My friends with kids who play hockey and football have far greater equipment costs than we ever did. In fact, when I saw what the gear for a hockey goalie cost I quickly maneuvered my boys away from the sport. Overall progressing in any sport translates into more costs. If a player is passionate, it’s difficult to ask him or her to give up the game. Therefore we parents have to find a way to pay for it all. My one caveat is to caution against expecting to “recoup” the costs through a college scholarship. You’d be better off putting all the money you spend on soccer into a college savings program. That’s not to say kids won’t earn scholarships – many will – but the reality of these scholarships is that they won’t cover tuition much less room, board, books, and incidentals. And if your player attends a private school or an out-of-state institution then the scholarships will often make just a puny dent in the expenses. In reality we all need to decide what we can comfortably afford, and then we need to stick to that budget. It may mean choosing a less “successful” club to make some savings. Don’t worry about that. Top soccer players have come from all types of clubs and programs. Ultimately it is the individual player’s determination, skill and attitude that dictates how far he or she will go and not how loose a parent’s purse strings are.