Legend has it that in the old days – and only a couple of generations back – kids played “stick ball” and spent hours jumping a piece of rope. The kids wore what were termed “play clothes.” But those days are over. Even we grown ups have chugged the kool (make that Gator) ade and require specialized equipment for anything remotely athletic.
Every activity my kids have pursued, even briefly, has required an investment in gear, a uniform or special shoes. This would be comical if everyone weren’t so serious about it. How did we all get here?
No boys get together to play shirts and skins these days; they each need a reversible practice jersey. Nobody shows up for yoga in a pair of sweatpants and comfy T shirt; they wear capris and a tank top and carry a yoga mat in a tote made just for toting yoga mats.
Teams don’t only compete on the basis of athletic talent, they compete on appearance and gear. There are certain youth teams in town that show up to play in a parade of mascot-emblazoned, monogrammed bags that go along with matching track suits and shoes. This practice can intimidate or lead to ridicule, depending on outcome of actual play. As one dad remarked to me in awe, “Do you know how many fish fries and car washes it takes to buy all that stuff?”
Wasn’t a simple wooden bat good enough for Jackie Robinson? Have you priced a baseball bat now? The simple act of running requires good shoes, although apparently they must also be accompanied by a shirt with moisture wicking, reflective fabric that repels water and claims to keep you hot or cool. One hundred percent cotton is so 90′s. As in: 1890′s.
There is no avoiding the expense, but you may at least minimize it with these tips:
1. Let your kid try a sport with inexpensive equipment first and if he or she shows a sustained interest, consider investing in better quality gear that will withstand heavier use.
2. Yard and consignment sales are great sources for cheap gear, but the only practical way to shop them is to snap up any equipment that might be useful and have low expectations for how often you will use it. Thrift stores are also good resources (The Salvation Army store on John Hawkins Parkway in Hoover is surprisingly neat and well merchandised).
3. Get acquainted with parents of an older child who is ahead in the sport, and arrange to purchase each year’s used gear. The parents will be thrilled to recoup a portion of the cost and you will know exactly what you are getting.
4. Shop used gear shops like Play It Again Sports and check online swap sites.
5. As a general rule, Academy Sports discounts more regularly than Dick’s Sporting Goods, but Dick’s frequently offers coupons. Both have frequent shopper reward programs.
6. Look for running, tennis, and golf wear at TJ Maxx. Styles from Nike and Under Armour are discounted, and less prominent brands (Avia, Pony) are markedly cheaper.
7. If you must have a specialized item, smaller stores like Hibbett’s may surprise you with the depth of their selection. Hibbett’s is especially good for apparel featuring local team logos.
We are probably never going back to a world without fancy sports gear. Preschool parents, enjoy duck, duck, goose for as long as you can before we need regulation equipment to play a proper game.