A worthwhile investment

While some intensive extracurricular activities can be all-consuming, parents are saying it’s worth the time and money

Bella Smith, centre, competes in cheerleading. Photo Credit M. Caron

Some months, Amanda DeGrace pays more for her three children’s extracurricular activities than for the mortgage on the family’s Ottawa home.

Thirteen-year-old Dominic Smith has been playing competitive baseball for seven years, and trains year-round. DeGrace’s oldest child also plays football, futsal, badminton and participates in shotput and discus. His sister Bella, 11, is a competitive cheerleader and takes tumbling lessons; and Rhiannon, 9, plays hockey year-round and baseball in the summer.

Dominic Smith slides into base.Photo Credit Clic Plus

Rhiannon Smith, hockey. Photo Credit Clic Plus

From January to April, the family can easily spend $3,000 per month on athlete fees, uniforms, hotels, meals, transportation and boarding for their dog while travelling for competitions and tournaments. The off-season offers a bit of reprieve, costing the family close to $600 a month.

“When we take into consideration equipment, travel expenses and registration fees,” says DeGrace, “we have made a large financial investment into our children’s love for their sports.

“Do I think my kids are going to make it to the ‘big leagues?’ Most likely not—and it’s not because I don’t believe in them. It’s just the reality—but what they are learning from their sporting passions are irreplaceable and extremely valuable life skills.” This includes teamwork, leadership, wellness, the importance of great sleep habits, dedication, confidence building, goal setting, creating action plans and learning to interact with a large variety of people, says DeGrace, all great skills “as they find their way with who they are as individuals.”

DeGrace is not alone in her thinking.

Olivia Marconi plays U13 A hockey with the Nepean Wildcats. From August to April, the 12-year-old (who began playing hockey at age four) is on the ice with her team a minimum of four times a week and does other training three times a week. In the off-season, she plays on a spring team, which has two on-ice practices a week plus other training, and three tournaments (two of which are out of town). While hockey alone carried a price tag of $18,000 in 2023, Olivia also plays other sports, including basketball, beach volleyball and golf.

Olivia Marconi. Photo Credit Jennifer Bailey Photography & Design

She’s learning all the values that sports bring, says Olivia’s mom, Susan Marsh: sacrifice, discipline, perseverance, teamwork, learning how to deal with disappointment, how to overcome challenges, building lifelong friendships, dealing with a variety of personalities, health and fitness for life, commitment, collaboration, patience and supporting others.

“Observing parents of young athletes, it’s evident that many make sacrifices financially and with their time to accommodate these activities,” says Ottawa Sports Academy (OSA) Private School principal Lori Bouzane-Lavallee. “We understand that private school is a sacrifice for parents and we are working hard to give parents back some of their time and obtain local scholarships for our students.”

At OSA Private School, students Grades 4-12 engage in academics and intensive athletics or artistic activities like hockey, baseball, soccer, dance, music, and fitness/strength and conditioning. For many, it is a potential pathway to professional success, such as making it to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), National Hockey League (NHL) /Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), professional dance, music, the Olympics or the Canada Games.

“Sport and the arts are necessary to keep our children healthy, happy, and connected,” says Bouzane-Lavallee. “Studies continually show that involvement in sports and the arts is important for our children’s cognitive, social and emotional learning. Children learn soft skills, time management skills, and they are introduced to diverse personalities and friendships which builds confidence and resilience.”

Competitive Irish dancers Nes McCarthy, 16, and their brother Desmond, 10, have made lifelong friends that are like family, says their mother, Melissa Ferland.

Nes McCarthy. Photo Credit Melissa Ferland


Desmond McCarthy. Photo Credit Melissa Ferland

“Nes has friends from other regions that they met at competition with whom they keep in daily contact and those friendships are really precious,” says Ferland, a mother of five. “We have gained a really wonderful community.”

There are trade-offs to spending four days a week at the dance studio. “It is financially demanding for us as a family of two parents and five kids,” says Ferland. Between tuition, studio time, costumes, shoes, travel to competition and competition registration fees, the family spent around $13,000 on dance last year.

“A new Irish dance costume for a competitor at our 16-year-old’s level can cost several thousands of dollars, as they are usually custom and handmade overseas,” says Ferland. “Nes is the third owner of their dress, and has been saving their money for over a year and working full time in the summer to be able to afford their next one.”  

The other sacrifice is that of time. “We never travel at spring break as a family because our kids prefer dancing in retirement homes with their studio during that week,” Ferland says.

DeGrace lives by a colour-coded family calendar that tracks practice times, games, travel tournaments, medical appointments—”we often are visiting chiropractors, physios and other wellness practitioners to ensure they are feeling well within their bodies,” she says—and most of the time, she and her husband are driving in different directions with kids.  

Mimi Zeng’s daughter Sienna is so busy with figure skating and other activities that the seven-year-old sometimes misses playing with her friends. “She sees kids playing at the park while we leave to attend classes,” says Zeng, and by the time they return, most children are ready for bed.

Regardless of goals—from Wendy Dawson’s children, hockey player Morgan, 17, and ringette referee Taylor, 15, who are in sport for the love of the game (“if it’s no fun, it’s not being done,” Dawson says) to Nes and Desmond, who aspire to own dance studios as adults—their parents agree the sacrifices they’ve made are worth it. As Marsh puts it, “the benefits are not financial, but an opportunity to soar where you never thought you could go.”




Budgeting tips for extracurricular activities

  • Buy and sell used equipment — Susan Marsh
  • Don’t keep up with what others are doing. Do what is best for your child — S.M.
  • Save gas by carpooling, share hotel rooms and bring food to tournaments — S.M.
  • Participate in team fundraising to help offset some costs— S.M.
  • Often, people don’t think about all the extra costs that come with participating in a travel sports team, for example, hotel, gas, food, boarding for pets, travel insurance, special team outings and dinners, etc. Understand what all of these costs may be for your athlete/family and how much to budget for — Amanda DeGrace