The Three Most Expensive Sports for Kids

These sports passions rack up costs in equipment, lessons, and travel.

by Ben Radding

From schooling to healthcare, parents feel kids deserve the best, whether they can afford it or not. That’s likely why the kids’ sports industry takes in a whopping $15.3 billion annually. But when it comes to some kids sports, the costs can really add up. There are plenty of athletic activities — soccer for instance — that don’t tank the old college savings account and simply cost time. But there are some sports that cost a bit more than cleats, shin guards and a few precious weekends. So parents should take heed: these are the big three sports that might put a glimmer in a kid’s eye but blow a massive hole in a parent’s bank account.

Ice Hockey

If your kid can’t stop looking at Gretzky highlights, parents might be in for some financial duress. Between the equipment and ice time, they can expect to shell out some serious dough. Plus, as Michael Schupak, CFP, of Schupak Financial Partners points out, “You can get stuck with really odd ice time hours, like 7:00 AM on a Sunday.” And as it’s often said, time is money.

There are numerous stories out there about the high cost of youth hockey. High-end skates can cost up to $1,000, and sticks up to $280. Never mind all the pads and helmets. According to a Utah State survey, a family can expect to spend an average of around $7,000 a year on youth ice hockey—with an upper limit that hits close to $20,000.

And if a kid wants to travel for the sport, parents can expect costs to soar. “You can hit the $10,000 mark in a years’ time for an involved hockey travel league, not including the time you have devoted,” says Marie Thomasson, financial adviser and founder of Modern Assets. “I’ve even met kids under 10 who travel internationally to play golf. These kids have parents who are willing to bet the farm on scholarships and future careers in sports, or have the means to make this happen the way I take my kids to get ice cream.”

Indeed, you shouldn’t go into ice hockey and immediately bet on a scholarship. Only 10% or so of high school ice hockey players play in college.


No equipment, no problem, right? Well, that’s not quite the case, as parents will discover when their child wants to take up gymnastics. “This sport starts out pricey but palatable,” says Thomasson. “Just wait. The second your child gets the itch, you’ll be negotiating with former Olympic athletes on training fees. Not to mention the travel costs.”

Gymnastics is the prime example of a sport where the weekly lessons are the driving financial issue for a family. Recreational classes start at about $20 per class — no problem! — but once a kid wants to get competitive, lesson costs can escalate to $300 per month. Intensive camp? $500, please. Taken with travel and over time, the costs of gymnastics can really add up. Plus, parents will still probably have to save for college; only about 14 women’s and 16 men’s athletic scholarships are awarded at 85 schools.

Horseback Riding

Horse ownership is essential. And horses are not cheap. The average cost of a horse can vary wildly, but generally, it starts around $1,350 and goes all the way up to $10,000 for people who don’t have all the right tack right in the beginning, including bridals, saddles, brushes, bits and reins.

Horseback riding is typically known for being a rich kid’s game, and there’s a good reason besides owning a horse. “Lessons can set you back $85 an hour, but once you get past a canter, you’re looking at unbridled costs: even a free horse will cost you an arm and a leg to maintain, along with a place to keep the horse, vets, trainers, and of course, travel to competitions that now includes carting around a horse,” says Thomasson.

Oh, and the competitions are not exactly the cheapest to enter either: competition fees start at $500. Only 17 schools offer equestrian scholarships—so parents can’t even safely bank on a kid getting into college for free. All in all, when a child says, “Daddy, can I have a pony?” parents better pray they mean the “My Little” kind.