On Monday, it’s soccer. Wednesday, softball. Thursday, gymnastics — and by Friday, it’s time to hit the road for an away game.

Kids’ extracurricular activities are a balancing act of cost and value. In 2015, parents spent an average of $2,266 on their child’s travel team participation, and some on elite teams spent upward of $20,000 per year, according to the Aspen Institute.

Lisa Shebar of Wheaton, Illinois, whose three kids play travel soccer, believes the higher costs are worth it.

“We would rather pay a little more to double the caliber of training they receive from professional coaches compared to that of parent volunteers,” she says. “We’re already in it. Why not increase our costs a little to get much more?”

But before you sign up your child for their next team sport, it’s important to ask yourself these questions.

Before committing, know what is required and what may be optional, and decide how much you’re willing to invest.


    There are always added costs for things like uniforms, costumes and equipment. There may also be travel costs, recital or competition fees, food during all-day events and even admission to performances.

    “Club teams have higher fees and some play year-round as opposed to having summers off,” Shebar says. “Some games are out of state, so there’s the cost of travel and hotels. All of the travel costs, including a share of the coaches’ expenses, come out of the parents’ pockets.”

    Before committing, know what is required and what may be optional, and decide how much you’re willing to invest.


    For Shebar, an elite soccer team made sense for her 13-year-old daughter to gain experience and exposure that could lead to college scholarships. “She is a good player, and girls’ soccer scholarships are usually offered by sophomore year,” she says. “Being within a two-year window of that, we’re willing to up the ante and increase our costs because her dream could be a reality.” If your child wants to try something new or is just looking to have fun, park district leagues and classes can be a great — and cheaper — option.


    Although both parents work, the Shebars have cut costs in other areas to pay for their kids’ activities. They drive a minivan that’s more than 12 years old, use coupons whenever they can and wear secondhand clothing from friends or resale shops. They also haven’t taken a vacation since their oldest started playing travel sports five years ago. On the upside, the kids stay active and have little time to be idle. “We’re probably the last family on earth without a video game system,” Shebar says.


    No matter what you and your children hope to gain from the activity, they ultimately need to have fun. At the end of the season or session, when it’s time to consider signing up again, talk to your kids about their experiences. If they want to continue, it’s often well worth the cost.

    Shebar and her husband are both musicians, and they enrolled all three of their children in piano at an early age. But they constantly fought with their middle son about practicing — so after three years, they let him quit.

    “We got tired of forcing him to practice and putting money into a kid who doesn’t want to play,” Shebar says. And their son came around to another instrument: In fifth grade, he chose to play trumpet in the school band, where he gets one-on-one help from the band director for free.


    You could cut expenses if you borrow, lease or purchase used equipment, instruments, uniforms and costumes, or buy them as birthday or holiday presents. Your team may also coordinate fundraising to defray tuition or competition costs. And share costs with other families by driving together, packing picnic lunches, sharing hotel rooms or even taking turns chaperoning.

    When Shebar’s daughter’s soccer team traveled to Colorado this summer, four players stayed together in each room. The girls who traveled without their parents either drove with other families or the coach, or sat with other families on the flight.

    “It’s a collaborative effort,” Shebar says. “We all looked out for each other’s kids.”

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