Australian parents are making the difficult decision not to let their kids play a sport to save money

Important points
  • Skye Moyes pays more for rent and groceries but doesn’t earn more, leaving finances tight.
  • She won’t sign her sons up for the sports they usually do in the second half of the year.
  • Parents spend an average of $970 per child per year on physical activity.
Skye Moyes’ two sons love sports and have been actively involved in numerous activities over the past few years.
But after a expensive few months amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, Ms Moyes had to make a tough decision: No more sport for her children.

She is not alone. As the rising cost of living is felt across the country, many families are looking to cut expenses and cut costs.

Rochelle Eime, professor of sport participation at Victoria University and Federation University, said current economic conditions had the potential to reduce children’s participation in sport across Australia.
“With the cost of living rising, everyone is looking at their household budget and obviously things that are discretionary could be cut,” she said.

“I honestly think people aren’t going to play multiple sports.”

No more sport after the end of the season

For Ms. Moyes, the 2023 school year began with the usual back-to-school expenses and paying $600 to have her sons participate in athletic activities.
“Tennis was $150 each, and that’s for 10 lessons, and then AFL is $160, and swimming at school was right up this year — one was $75 and the other was $65,” she said.

The single mother and part-time carer from Yanchep, north Perth, said she also had to factor in the cost of sports uniforms.

A mother and children

Skye Moyes has decided not to register her children for her popular sports later this year as her budget just won’t stretch. Source: delivered

She said while her sons would continue to play tennis for the remainder of the school year and the older one would play Aussie Rules for the season, she would not register them for boxing or football after that.

Ms Moyes said covering the costs of her sons’ sport has been a bigger challenge than usual this year.
She said the family’s rent has increased in recent months and their bi-weekly grocery store has gone from about $300 to $500.
Across the country Mortgage stress grows as and inflation is at a 30-year high.
Ms Moyes said while her sons’ participation in after-school sports would stretch her budget, she was keen to give her children the opportunity.
“Just for them to get physical and healthy, and also for the athletic side,” she said.
Ms Moyes said her sons are aware money is tight but is still finding it difficult to break the news to them.

“I just explained to them that unfortunately everything has gone up, but mum’s salary hasn’t,” she said.

Sports participation prices

Professor Eime said analysis of records of sport participation in Victoria had shown that children – girls in particular – were returning to sport after disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and that this is likely only being exacerbated by financial pressures.
Figures based on sport participation in Victoria showed about 60 per cent of children played sport outside of school, she said.

Participation is highest between the ages of five and 14 and higher in regional than in metropolitan areas.

Rochelle Elme

Rochelle Eime, professor of sport science at Victoria University and Federation University, says children’s sporting activities could be phased out as families try to cut discretionary spending. Source: delivered

Professor Eime said those in ‘growth corridors’ of cities with lower socioeconomic areas and sometimes higher numbers of new migrants are often less likely to exercise.

“Areas with a lower socioeconomic status have much lower participation in sports than those in more affluent suburbs,” she said.
Professor Eime said participation in sport is important for children’s social and mental health and well-being.
“That connection with others has a tremendous impact on their health,” she said.
“We’ve done a few studies where we’ve looked at children who exercised and those who quit and those who exercised still have much significantly better health and well-being.

“You learn a lot of those lifelong lessons that you don’t get in the classroom or otherwise.”

The game cost

The average amount that parents spend on sports activities per child and year is according to the .
According to the commission’s National Sport and Physical Activity Participation Report, released in November 2022, one of the most commonly reported barriers to participation in sport across the country was cost.

Participation data showed that swimming was the most popular sport for children up to 11 years old. Soccer was the first choice for boys between the ages of 12 and 14, while netball was for girls in this age group.

Grants for children at play

Ms Moyes said she used a state government KidSport voucher to help pay for part of the cost of her eldest son’s AFL fees.
The $150 voucher, available for those in WA who are considered low-income, can be used towards registration fees for certain sports clubs.
Ms Moyes said she can only redeem the grant for her older child, who plays AFL, as tennis lessons for her younger son are not covered by it.

Similar subsidies are available in other states including the Active Kids voucher in NSW and the Get Active Kids voucher in Victoria.

make sports accessible

When Perth mother-of-two Liz Sheehan tweeted about how much it would cost for her eight-year-old son to play football this season, she was surprised to hear others paying up to $450 for their children to play the game .
While Ms Sheehan said she and her husband could afford to let their children play sports this year, she felt for those who had to make the difficult decision not to enroll.

“I stopped and I was like, ‘Can I afford these two weeks? How can low-income people afford that?’” she said.

Professor Eime said sports organizations should look at ways to reduce costs for families so more children can take part.
“We need to look at what I call the ‘little levers’ — the things we can change to make it more accessible,” she said.
“It’s not just about membership costs, there are many other ways we can minimize costs – like reusing uniforms. Club and team based uniforms instead of individuals buying new tops when they outgrow them.”
Professor Eime urged parents to look around for sports activities for their children.
“Team sports are generally much cheaper because they’re often run by volunteers,” she said.
“These activities, run by product providers like dance schools, are much more expensive because they’re commercial operations and often have more indoor infrastructure to pay for.”
Professor Eime said that costs often vary greatly between sports clubs.

“Sometimes it depends on the different leases that the club has for the infrastructure,” she said. “Sometimes clubs want to upgrade their facilities and then maybe they just raise the price and don’t realize it puts a lot of people off because they just can’t afford it.”

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