By: Karlee Holzbach
There are many factors that come into play for individuals when deciding what sports young adults wish to pursue into. These factors can range from who they are as a person, what location they live in, their cultural influences, and even what country they reside in. Unfortunately for these young adults, their future in sports heavily relies on their socioeconomic class status that they’re born into. Throughout the years, researchers have found supporting evidence to agree that a person’s social class and their involvement in sports show a positive correlation relating together. Thomas C. Wilson states in his article, The Paradox of Social Class and Sports Involvement, that, “sociological studies on sports have found that the higher one’s social class, the greater is one’s overall involvement in sports, but the less likely is one’s involvement in what have come to be called ‘prole’ sports.” In other words, certain types of sports are separated into different class preferences.
Particular sports across the world have always had class bias. In one of their scholarly communication articles, Mason and Duquette explore class differences in the sport of hockey in Canada. They explain in their article about the disparity with how lower and upper class have divided themselves since the origin of hockey in the late 19th century. This idea that Mason and Duquette bring attention to can now be seen in today’s youth sports.
People residing in the upper social class have the income to allow to pay for resources that need to compete in more expensive sports, while people who reside in the middle-lower class status are forced to compete in sports that don’t require high expenses to participate in. Mona Dobre-Laza identified these two sports to be known in the past through the working-class identity.
“Soccer, or association football, was undoubtedly the biggest sport in terms of working class involvement, at least from the 1890’s on. Equipment was cheap, the rules were easy to learn, it could be played on sloping and uneven surfaces in almost all weathers, if necessary, and it had a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.”
In recent years, families of the lower class are being faced with financial problems more often due to the rise of payments needed to support their child’s youth sports teams. According to Patti Neighmond, youth sports are being advanced into more competitive, more time consuming, and more costing traveling club teams. These traveling club teams are taking advantage of these parents who aren’t able to pay these hefty fees due to their lower class income. Daryl Hill, a college and professional football player in the 1960’s exclaimed to NPR that communities during his youth offered free access to their parks and recreation for individuals to practice with friends during the day. Hill reminisced on the freedom offered to him and his friends during his childhood memories.
“In my generation we had free play — playground sports, pickup games we played among ourselves,” he says. “Everyday, we would come home from school, and if it was baseball season, we’d run out to the sandlot and play baseball among ourselves — no adult supervision. There were leagues around,” Hill notes, “but it was fun. We just played.”
Since then, these centers now have added on a monthly registration fee that members must pay in order to use the facilities equipment or field space. Matt Ray, an athletic director of the Anna Maria Island Community Center, explained to NPR that his center offers all types of sports that any child or adult would want to play. Since Ray works at the center, he and his family are allowed to access all equipment for free. However, he states that if he didn’t have his job position, the center’s fees they require would be too pricey for him to accommodate.
“Most of my money goes to bills and rent,” he says. “It just wouldn’t be doable.”
Due to the rise of travel teams over youth sports, there is a higher demand in parents to make sure their children are physically ready for the competition. With this demand in skills comes the higher demand in money. According to the National Association of Sports Commission, almost all of travel youth sports increased five percent in 2013, at roughly $8.7 billion. Children whose families aren’t able to afford these payments are set at a disadvantage against the upper class kids when trying out for these teams. Daniel Gould is the director of the institute for the study of youth sports and a professor of applied sports psychology at Michigan State University. He explains his concerns to NPHR regarding these lower class families who lack access the resources in order to sign their children up for sports teams.
“…So if we know kids get benefits from participation in sports and they don’t get participate, they’re not going to get the benefits. If you come from a middle-class family, your parents can probably afford pay-for-play programs or travel teams, but if you’re from the inner-city, or from a single-parent household, and your parents may not have the money for that, and they’re limiting the rec center hours, or school programs aren’t as well-funded as they were 30 years ago…”
According to Kelley Holland, youth sport travel is one of the fastest growing segments of travel industry. Winter, spring, summer, and fall, these players are either training or traveling to play other teams of their age group around the country to be able to gain experience needed to perform efficiently on the field. Many parents will do whatever it takes to give their child a chance to make it on a sports team, no matter what their income is. Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sport management at George Washington University and the parent of a young lacrosse player, explains her motives for paying for her child’s sports team simply as, “it’s just what you do.” Neriotti explains that the process of youth sports is almost inevitable if your child shows talent.
“It starts out that parents want their kids to play something just to be active,” Neirotti said. “Then if they show talent, they are kind of put through the process. The coaches encourage the parents to go up a division and before you know it, you’re on a travel team and you are sucked into it.”
“Paying to play on sports teams is now the norm,” according to Holland. Traveling, team apparel, and new gear are just the beginning of the payments that comes from a traveling team. One must not forget about the meals, gas, hotel fees, and other items needed to complete their full weekend of playing. Brian and Kelly Meith explain to CNBC that nowadays soccer doesn’t come cheap. Kelly estimated approximately $2,000 or more goes into the club fee, not including tournament fees and distance traveled. Uniforms, on the other hand, add on another $400 to $500 due to the uniform changes every few years. Brian and Kelly explains their devotion to their two teenager’s soccer schedules.
“Even on weekends when we are home, one will have a game Friday night, or one on Sunday and the other on Saturday,” she said. “Our whole weekend revolves around feeding people and getting them to the games and doing laundry.”
Although these times are meant to be fun for everyone, these dues can add up rapidly. Without this competitive exposure, these young adults don’t stand a chance against the upper class athletes. CNBC describes the rate of sports participation having a direct relationship based on family incomes. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 25 percent of the population has household income under $25,000, but only 15 percent of sports participants are in that group and only 11 percent of soccer participant households. However, about 20 percent of households have incomes over $100,000, but 33 percent of households participating in sports have incomes at the level, and 37 percent of soccer participants are in that income category. Based on these statistics, the decline in young adults in sports are ultimately decreasing throughout the years. Ultimately, young adults with lower class families cannot afford to send their child across the state, let alone the country, to play for their travel team.
I grew up playing travel softball on multiple teams surrounding my community for 10 years. No matter what age group I was in at the time, my team and I were traveling as far as California to compete in highly ranked softball tournaments. Although it was a great experience competing in far from home, it wasn’t all fun and games. Since I was 10-years-old, my ultimate goal was to play softball at a collegiate level. By the time I was 16-years-old, our weekly traveling allowed us to promote our skills to potential college recruiters watching from the stands. Through the side lessons, new gear, and travel spending, all of the money my parents invested in me finally paid off when I was recruited to play softball at a Divison III Virginia school, Christopher Newport University. However, due to its Division ranking, my school wasn’t able to offer any athletic scholarship. All of the money spent on my childhood travel teams led me to my goal, but my parents were still in need to pay for my college education as well. I am more than fortunate enough that my parents were able to support me, both emotionally and financially, through softball and college.
According to Neighmond, many upper class families spend thousands of dollars building their child’s physical skills for sports by buying top of the line equipment, and paying for private lessons for their children to travel across the country to compete with elite teams. To lower income families, these prices associated with team sport’s equipment, transportation, and uniforms are unimaginable. However, even if they have to pinch pennies, parents try to find financial ways to make it work for their children. There are many young athletes in the world that could be the next hall of famer, but due to their social class ranking, they aren’t given the chance to show it.