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Rising cost of living impacts youth sports across the country

Of particular concern for youth sports organizers is the cost of food, a central part of athletics competition. Grocery prices in Canada were up 11.4 per cent in January compared to a year ago
With the rising cost of living, parents of young athletes are choosing to not stay over for sporting effects to save on the cost of hotels. Young players skate during an on-ice session in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

It's rare for there to be unanimous agreement among the parents of youth athletes, but Canada's rising cost of living has created a consensus.

Jeremy Cross, a youth basketball coach in the Greater Toronto Area who is also the executive director of the Coaches Association of Ontario, saw it first hand earlier this month. His teams were planning for a three-day provincial championship tournament an hour's drive outside of the city when parents were asked about spending the weekend overnight.

"Normally, we would stay in hotels but we had a unanimous decision by all families, all 13 families on my team, not one family wanting to stay over because of the cost of hotels," said Cross. "So we're all going to drive Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the Ontario championships, back and forth, an hour away.

"Because nobody wants to pay the, I think it was like a rate of like $279 per night, for a basic hotel."

Cross said that the rising prices of anything service related is increasingly becoming a hurdle for the families of his players.

"Whether it's food, whether it's hotels, gas, you name it, the cost of living has gotten so out of control," said Cross. "People are making decisions, not just one or two families but unanimously made a decision that we're not going to stay overnight.

"Why would we do that? It's only an hour away. That's an unusual thing."

Of particular concern for youth sports organizers is the cost of food, a central part of athletics competition. Grocery prices in Canada were up 11.4 per cent in January compared to a year ago, nearly double the overall rate of inflation of 5.9 per cent.

Peter Niedre, director of education partnerships for the Coaching Association of Canada and a coach in biathlon, canoeing, and Nordic skiing, said that spiralling costs, especially around food, has three immediate impacts on youth sports.

He said the biggest issue is that food insecurity may lead to dropping participation numbers, as parents have to withdraw their children from sports to save money for more necessary expenses. The second is that it creates a possible nutritional deficit in athletes. Finally, rising food costs impacts the social enjoyment of playing sports, as things like post-game pizza parties have to be scaled back.

"I think the clubs are probably just trying to figure out how they budget for that, to make sure (the social aspect) is maintained," said Niedre of mid-game snacks or post-game meals. "It's just that at the end of the day, the cost of all that is probably going back to the parents."

Niedre said that coaches and other sports organizers are having to become more savvy with how they plan trips for tournaments and other competitions.

"We've changed how we choose our accommodation, so that we can pool a little bit more on food, or we're choosing hotels that have breakfast already included, those types of things," said Niedre. "That way we know that they're getting a good charge of energy in the morning before a race.

"Those are the types of things that we tried to really focus on to help with that, but the reality the costs for travelling teams, it's going up because of basically the cost to eat out and for food when you're on the road. It's a lot."

Cross was also worried that the issue of food could create a division between children on teams as some can afford to go to chain restaurants while others have to settle for cheaper alternatives like packed lunches or fast food.

"I totally think that is something that has to be considered," he said. "A single-child family going versus a large family that has to be more conscientious of feeding everyone.

"A family of six versus feeding a family of three, it's very different. A very, very large difference in expense."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press