JUNIOR sport may be costing some families thousands of dollars every year, but parents across the Central West say the benefits far outweigh out-of-pocket expenses.
Registration fees, uniforms and travel costs to out-of-area competitions push up the costs for families paying for children to get active.
Athletics is just one of the sports that Alesha Bennetts, 14, has been involved with for the past few years and her family often drive from their home in Mudgee to locations across the state so she can compete.
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Her father Kieren Bennetts said while the cost of playing sport locally was minimal, expenses soared when you factor in travel costs for away competitions.
"Alesha competes two or three times a year in Sydney at various carnivals and typically the other kids [his two other daughters] want to come," he said.
"I'd spend $4000-$5000 on travelling and accommodation to go away to the various competitions."
Mr Bennetts said with three sporty daughters, he makes sure to claim the $100 Active Kids voucher for each child to help cover costs.
Despite the expense associated with his daughters playing sport, he said the benefits of them being involved far outweigh the negatives.
"They make good friends and, not that I wish it on them, but there's nothing wrong with losing. That's how you learn," Mr Bennetts said.
I'd spend $4000-$5000 on travelling and accommodation to go away to the various competitions.Kieren Bennetts said of his daughter's athletics pursuits
Nikita Bourke said it may only cost $140 for her son Toby, 5, to play with Orange City Junior Rugby, but the cost of almost weekly travel for him to compete in Dubbo, Narromine, Mudgee and Wellington did add up.
"Every Saturday is in a different place so it costs on top of that [$140] to travel there," she said.
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"By the time you pay fuel to get there it's definitely a big cost.
"We have friends who have five kids. I don't know how they do it."
In the past, she has used the Active Kids voucher to purchase headgear, mouthguards and football boots for Toby.
In a bid to encourage year-round junior sport participation, the NSW Government will make available two $100 Active Kids vouchers each year for eligible children. This commences on July 1.
Ms Bourke was among the parents who welcomed the change.
"We're paying $800 a year for gymnastics between two boys for four terms, plus $1200 a year for swimming; even $100 does help," she said.
Martial arts is a family sport for the Breens in Bathurst with father, mother and two children all training and competing regularly.
Matt Breen said three years ago his son Tyler (then aged six) first took an interest in the sport and the rest of the family soon followed.
It costs around $1500 a year for each of his children to take part and the couple claim a $100 Active Kids voucher for each child.
"It's a great initiative by the government and it keeps kids in sport," he said.
Despite the out-of-pocket expenses, Mr Breen said he and his wife Amanda believed the cost was well worth it.
"Martial arts teaches them confidence and gives them skills in self defence," he said.
Lithgow District Netball Association has already accepted 300 Active Kids vouchers for junior players so far this year, treasurer Tracey Parsons said.
She said netball was relatively cheap compared to some sports, with free registration for children aged under 10s and $165 for 10-17-year-olds.
Ms Parsons said for parents with multiple children, however, the cost of sport participation could add up significantly and the $100 vouchers were a great benefit.
She claims an Active Kids voucher for her daughter Summer, 8, to help cover various costs associated with playing netball, while her niece Jordan, 16, used the $100 to go towards her netball registration fee.
"I've been involved in netball since I was eight. There's health benefits for children and also learning to participate in a team," she said.
"A lot of teams are mixed [with players] from different schools."
Eligible kids are not using their free $100 Active Kids voucher
MANY parents in the Central West are failing to apply for free sports vouchers for their children despite a NSW Government push to increase junior sport participation rates.
The Active Kids $100 voucher initiative kicked off in 2018 to encourage children to get active, but it seems the message still hasn't reached many parents in the region.
Only 45-50 per cent of eligible children in: Bathurst, Blayney, Dubbo, Forbes, Narromine and Orange council areas have received a voucher, NSW Government data shows.
Almost one quarter (24.9 per cent) of children aged 5-17 years were overweight or obese in 2017-18 (17 per cent overweight and 8.1 per cent obese).Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data
In Cabonne, Cowra, Hilltops, Mudgee and Parkes only 41-44 per cent have claimed a $100 voucher; while in Lithgow and Oberon it drops to 31-34 per cent.
The $100 voucher can be used for registration or membership fees for structured activities that are eight weeks or longer and provide a moderate to vigorous level of physical activity.
Meanwhile, almost one quarter (24.9 per cent) of children aged 5-17 years were overweight or obese in 2017-18 (17 per cent overweight and 8.1 per cent obese), data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows.
The rates were similar for boys and girls and this has remained stable over the previous 10 years.
Charles Sturt University's (CSU) Dr Tegan Hartmann said the "increasing prevalence of obesity is a complex phenomenon, there are many contributing factors to this societal trend".
She said regular participation in sport and exercise could produce a number of health benefits in children and adolescents, including improvements in cardiovascular, metabolic, musculoskeletal and mental health.
Dr Hartmann, a lecturer in the CSU School of Exercise Science, Sport and Health, said participation in physical activity was particularly important in young people.
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"We know that some of the chronic conditions associated with physical inactivity in later life have origins in early childhood, so it is suggested to be physically active in early life to prevent chronic conditions in later life," she said.
Dr Hartmann acknowledged that sport costs could be a prohibiting factor for some parents.
"Becoming physically active doesn't always need to involve planned and structured sport, incorporating being active in your everyday life can achieve the recommended activity guidelines, for example, doing some gardening and playing in the park," she said.
Doubling Active Kids vouchers
IN the lead up to a second Active Kids voucher becoming available for eligible children, many Central West sporting groups say the initiative has already been embraced by parents.
From July 1, families will be able to access two $100 vouchers every 12 months as the government aims to encourage year-round involvement in sport.
Children aged 4.5 to 18 years who are enrolled at school can receive the voucher to help cover sporting costs.
So far this year, 1300 Active Kids vouchers have already been claimed at Orange PCYC, and club manager Neil Hummerston said the initiative had been a "big winner" for families.
"The cost [of sport] can be a barrier for some parents and the whole idea is trying to remove as many barriers as possible," he said.
Mr Hummerston said the vouchers had encouraged new children into sport and others to take part year round.
The cost [of sport] can be a barrier for some parents and the whole idea is trying to remove as many barriers as possible.Orange PCYC club manager Neil Hummerston
In Dubbo, learning to swim has become a little easier thanks to the vouchers, swimming instructor Trent Croll said.
Around 70 per cent of school-aged students at Trent Croll's Learn to Swim Program have redeemed a voucher.
"There's a lot of kids around here who don't do sport, so they come and see me," Mr Croll said.
"If you want your kids to develop into fit people, you've got to build them up from a young age."
In Bathurst, 20 Active Kids vouchers have already been claimed so far this year at Warren Hickey's Precision Martial Arts, club manager Taylor Sargent said.
"They're putting them towards grading costs, initial start-up, uniforms and sparring gear," she said.