Parents, sponsors must demand greater transparency for youth sports
Youth sports is big business in America.
According to a study by The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC., U.S. families spent between $30 to $40 billion on their children’s sports activities in 2022.
The money families spend on youth sports includes such things as lessons, camps, equipment and travel. Within that total, economists estimate that about $15 billion is generated through youth sports organizations such as booster clubs and traveling competitive programs.
To provide a comparison about just how big youth sports in America are, in 2022, the combined revenue of all 32 NFL teams was $18.6 billion.
Money has the habit of bringing out the worst in some people. A quick internet search found that as the dollars pile up in youth and booster sports programs, so do the stories of funds going missing, either through sloppy bookkeeping or, in some cases, outright theft. A quick internet search shows pages and pages of cases across the country where money that was being raised ostensibly to benefit youth athletes and build communities, instead went into an embezzler’s pocket.
In many cases, the funds are never able to be recovered. For every story that grabs headlines, there are dozens of others that fly below the radar where people succumb to a moment of weakness or who are just disorganized in handling organizational finances. Youth sports organizations owe it to the players’ families, who are footing the bill, as well as to the local business sponsors who are constantly being tapped for donations.
The special challenge of youth sports, as with most things, is finding any volunteers willing to take on thankless leadership and organizational tasks. Imposing the types of financial checks and balances you might see in a typical workplace setting would drive many parents running for the hills. Yet, this is exactly what organizations need to do in order to maintain and improve credibility and ensure that money raised is being used for its intended purposes.
Youth sports organizations must be transparent, not only to the athletes and families involved, but to community donors. Beyond that, there needs to be clear record-keeping so that money can be tracked to show where it came from and where it went and to clearly define who has the ability in the organization to spend money.
It is not only important for youth sports organizations to create policies that look good on paper, but to implement them and provide training to those new to the organization’s leadership to ensure the financial policies are followed.
Ultimately it is the responsibility of parents and community sponsors to demand accountability and transparency from youth sports organizations.
At their best, youth sports provide a place to learn life lessons, develop skills and for families to generate positive memories. All stakeholders need to work to ensure that youth sports remain positive and are not brought down by a few bad apples.