Own goal as parents foot bill for active kids

Brunella Parr from Wetherill Park who plays soccer along with her four children, Sienna 6, Jackson 7, Dylan 10 and Josh 15.
Brunella Parr from Wetherill Park who plays soccer along with her four children, Sienna 6, Jackson 7, Dylan 10 and Josh 15. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Amid a financial downturn and a growing obesity crisis, families are still finding a way to involve their children in sport as memberships show healthy trends.

Registrations are under way for winter sport, forcing parents to dig deep for fees, uniforms and equipment with back-to-school costs barely behind them.

As family budgets increasingly stretch, many are doing their best to keep their children involved in sports teams, even if it means an adult misses out this winter, or children drop an activity.

Brunella Parr, of Wetherill Park, puts away money for five members of her family to play football. ''I save up because it's an investment,'' she said.

Enrolling Joshua, 15, Dylan, 10, Jackson, 7, and Sienna, 6, is no mean feat, with fees at their AC United club ranging from $285 for Sienna to $300 for Joshua. The family pays another $180 for Joshua to be a referee.

Mrs Parr has considered not playing herself to make sure the children can all stay involved, as each has since they were five.

Taking the children to training four nights a week and to matches in four different places on a Saturday also takes its toll, but Mrs Parr says it is a sacrifice worth making. ''We promote a healthy lifestyle … I enrolled them in sports so they keep active and socially active,'' she said.

Football has shown a slowing in junior memberships, notably among boys. There were 136,824 players under 18 enrolled in 2009 (figures are not yet available for last year or this.)

Mark Stavroulakis, media manager at Football NSW, ascribes this partly to the fact that boys move towards contact sports as they get older - so switch to different football codes - while the association has heavily promoted women's football. ''We're miles ahead of the other sports in terms of participation rates,'' he said, ''and we're happy doing what we're doing and continuing to hopefully see lots of kids playing.''

Netball is the other most popular sport for girls, and memberships have risen 1.7 per cent in the past year (from 106,165 in 2009). Rugby union has also shown strong growth - up 7 per cent to a record 20,708 last year - while rugby league reports a rise of 2 per cent in the past year (exact figures were not available).

Netball NSW general manager Carolyn Campbell says affordability makes her sport as attractive to parents as girls. ''If you've got a pair of runners you can participate somewhere.''