Editor’s note: This post was updated on Nov. 4, 2019.
When my son decided at an early age that hockey was his sport of choice, I, as a major hockey fan, was thrilled. Our bank account, on the other hand, was not. Between league fees, tournament travel, and equipment purchase, hockey has set us back a lot of money each year.
With all three of my kids playing a variety of sports over the years, we have gone through a small country’s annual operating budget in equipment purchase alone. Soccer cleats, baseball gloves, tennis racquets, skates, bike helmets — etc., etc. — have all made their way in and out of our house.
It’s no surprise to read that enrollment in some sports has plummeted in recent years. In a report released by CIBC and KidSport in July 2014, 52 percent of parents indicated that their child does not participate in organized sports due to equipment costs. To use hockey as an example, equipment can range in price from $280 at the low end to well into the thousands. And when you purchase equipment for your child that they sometimes only use for one year and then sprout out of, purchases are rarely a one-time event.
Is there a way to source lower-priced equipment? Most definitely! Some resources are easy to find and some require a little investigation, but at the end of the day, if it means more participation in sports and less money coming out of your wallet, it is well worth it.
The most important thing to keep in mind when sourcing all sports equipment is the safety of the piece. In order to keep your child safe, all equipment must fit them properly. Hockey helmets must have a CSA (Canadian Standards Association) sticker on them and must be free from cracks, must have a functioning chin strap, and must fit snugly.
For skates, ensure there are no missing or rusted rivets, rusted or cracked blades, or cut leather. For all other pieces, look for signs of wear and tear and again, most importantly, make sure they fit your child properly.
Secondhand sports equipment retailers
A handy way to purchase less expensive sports equipment is by buying at secondhand sports stores. All provinces in Canada have secondhand sporting stores such as Play It Again Sports. The advantage of buying directly from these stores is that you know they always purchase pieces to be sold secondhand in perfect condition. Equipment can be purchased for a large number of sports including snowboarding, soccer, skiing, hockey, tennis, golf, baseball, and many more.
Online secondhand purchases
No matter where you live, a quick search of internet classified sites such as Craigslist, eBay, or Kijiji will reveal a large number of products that people wish to sell. Occasionally, you may even be lucky enough to stumble upon a piece of equipment that someone has bought and never used but is willing to sell at a lower price. Most often, ads will have pictures that will show the piece being sold but the best way to judge the quality of it is when you actually inspect it upon pickup.
Out of season sales
Need new bathing suits for your kids? Wait until September when stores need to clear them out and find them often up to 75 percent off. Hockey skates? Wait until the summer. Of course, you will need to remember that there is a strong possibility that your child may grow before they need to don their equipment but using your best judgement of how much your child will probably grow, you can certainly find great deals.
Rent from the sports league
Many sports leagues have equipment that they will rent to families. This is a fantastic way to use equipment at a low cost and ensure you are not purchasing a piece that your child may outgrow in a short period of time. Contact the league as early as possible to see if they do rent equipment and secure pieces early.
There are many great rental stores across the country that loan out equipment at a fraction of the price of purchasing it. This option is particularly good if your Eugenie Bouchard decides after a few months of tennis lessons that she has changed her mind and wants to focus more on channeling her inner Christine Sinclair. Rental stores also often sell their equipment if they have a surplus of pieces.
Half back programs
Many stores, particularly ski stores and some bike stores, run programs through which you can purchase equipment for your children at the beginning of the season and return it at the end for a 50 percent credit towards buying equipment in the following season. Again, this works well for growing kids who may be up to your belly button in the summer and up to your shoulders come December!
There are many, many online and in-store opportunities for you to swap equipment with others. As a way of encouraging the recycling of gear, Mountain Equipment Co-op has an online swap store. Many sports leagues also run their own swap events before their seasons begin. Make sure you inquire with your child’s league upon registration to see if this very economical way of acquiring equipment is available.
Some sports leagues run programs through which they ask families no longer using their equipment (or who have outgrown their equipment) to donate their gear and then the league provides the articles to players at no cost. There are also programs such as those run by the Sudbury & District Health Unit, which collect used bikes and skates. Kids can then either trade in items they have outgrown or simply take an item away with them. The Unit offers their bike exchanges twice a year and skate exchanges five times a year.
Last year alone, the unit gave away 422 pairs of skates! In Halifax, the city sponsors a Curbside Giveaway Weekend to encourage recycling. Residents place any articles (sports equipment being one of the allowable items) on their curbs with “free” stickers and other residents are welcome to pick anything they might like up for no cost.
Stores such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army do sell sports equipment, but according to salespeople at their stores, it is completely hit and miss depending on what’s donated. You may find no equipment one week and multiple items the next. If you’re looking for a great deal, though, this is another great option.
And for those who like the old-school option, there are always:
Scour your local classifieds and check for posters on street corners and on community bulletin boards. Families are usually eager to part with all kinds of items, including sports equipment, and what better way than with a good old garage sale. It’s a great way to recycle and another chance for bargain hunters to score some great deals on sports gear (along with driftwood lamps and kids’ chemistry labs from the ’70s; what could go wrong?).
The costs associated with kids’ sports can definitely be high. But with a little research, cutting some of the equipment costs can result in a happier bottom line, happier parents, and hopefully more kids involved in sports.