What price do we put on sport?

IT'S Saturday morning. You're trying to shovel your breakfast in while scanning the newspaper and getting the kids ready for sport at the same time. Sound familiar?

Then spare a thought for the Farrington family, of Modanville, who have four sports-mad kids who all participate in soccer, tennis and swimming.

"We have to get up earlier on the weekends than we do on school days," super mum Lisa Farrington said.

"I feel a bit like a Sergeant Major sometimes."

To say that life in the Farrington household is completely dominated by their sporting commitments is not too far from the truth. Consider the following schedule;

Monday: Lisa takes the kids to tennis after school.

Tuesday: Paul coaches the local Under 14 girls' soccer team, the Dunoon Divas, that their eldest daughter Rachael, 12, plays in.
Wednesday: Emily, 11, and Claire, 7, train for their respective club teams, while Mat, 9, trains with a regional development squad.

Thursday: Mat trains with his club soccer team the Dunoon Dynamites. Lisa and Paul play social squash in the evening.

Friday: Lisa takes the kids to swimming and sometimes club soccer matches, if scheduled.

Saturday and Sunday: All four kids play in soccer matches across the region.

"I spend a lot of time walking, playing Sodoku or catching up on sleep in the car," Lisa said.

She was hoping to join the women's soccer team herself this year, but found there just wasn't enough time in their busy week.

Dr Dave Arthur is the senior lecturer in Sports Management at Southern Cross University.

He said while no-one has ever really calculated the economic impact of our sports obsessed culture, the more important benefits to society are social and health benefits.

"There are obvious health benefits, although our governments don't seem to have made that connection yet.

There is also what is called 'psychic income' which is really what you'd call the feel good factor. If you get involved you feel good about yourself and whether you win or lose you have that connection with other people in the club."

Pat Gillett is a PhD student doing research in sports tourism at Southern Cross University, particularly focussing on the Masters Games.

The Masters Games is a bi-annual event for older sporting people which attracted 2100 participants to Lismore in 2005.

"There are lots of studies showing that if older people are active there is less of a cost to the public health care system. Quality of life is increased and other problems such as stress are reduced," he said.

Dr Arthur said he did a 'simplified study' on the economic impact of the 2005 Masters Games in 2005 and estimated it generated $800,000 for Lismore.

About 1400 of the 2100 participants came from outside the area and most of the money was spent on accommodation, hospitality and transport, with some money going back to local clubs.

Dr Arthur agreed sport was a national obsession, but said there was a drop off in participation rates when people got to the 16 to 18 age group.

"Other things take over. Rather than playing we tend to sit on the couch and watch sport on TV. They call it 'vicarious consumption'."

As well as the time commitments for many families, the financial cost of participating in local sport adds up very quickly.

"I don't want to think about it," Paul Farrington said when asked what his fuel costs were.

He estimated he drove 680kms last week, most of which was taking the kids to-and-from sport. Within the week he'd driven to Grafton twice, Lismore, Ballina and Woodburn.

The logistical considerations for families like the Farringtons are quite staggering.

In a couple of week's time their kids are scheduled to play matches in Kyogle, Lismore and Dunoon all at the same time.

"Car pooling is a really big thing, otherwise it just doesn't work," Lisa said.

"We get the kids up to the club and the coaches all have big cars."

Then there are the fees, uniforms and equipment costs.
Dr Arthur said sport is still regarded as 'discretionary spending' in most family budgets and rising costs are having an affect.

"A kid might want to play rugby league and rugby union and mum and dad have to say 'no'."

He said club fees could be as high as $300.

"Imagine if you were a hockey goal keeper - you have to buy the mask, the helmet, and the pads. Some sports are hugely expensive and others you just have to kick a bladder around."

The Farrington family said Mat's soccer development squad cost $380 which includes the uniform, while the local club fees are between $80 to $100 for each child.

Social tennis, squash and swimming lessons all cost around $8 an hour.

"We pass clothes down from one to the other," Lisa said.

"We don't smoke or drink or gamble. We prefer to spend the money on sport," Paul said.

"I enjoy it as much as they do. When I'm coaching I enjoy helping kids and seeing them improve."

"Part of it is the social thing and putting something back into the community and to teach them they can go as far as they can if they want to," Lisa said.

"And they enjoy it."

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