Your child is ready to enter the adrenalin-pumping, life-affirming, character-building world of summertime youth sports. The benefits are, of course, endless. And let’s be honest, it’s YOUR turn to do a little bragging on social media.
But what should you expect as you head into that first season of youth soccer, swim, lacrosse? How to ensure your kids will make the most of these opportunities and that you won’t lose your mind in the process?
With these questions in mind, we – with some help from our sun-charred, mosquito-bitten, gear-toting, athlete-chauffeuring youth sports veterans – have assembled for you newbies this survival guide.
Pre-Gaming: Eyes Wide Open
Your kids already got shoved into school without their consent, so they’re understandably going to be suspicious about this exciting new ‘sport’ you’re threatening to add to the mix.
And while you are indeed practicing good parenting by encouraging participation, we know from experience that making assumptions about kids and sports can lead to awfully long seasons for all involved.
So sit down and talk to your kids about the sport or sports you’re considering. If they’re averse to all of them, ask them to choose the one they detest the least. Similarly, consider your child’s personality – is she a solo artist or does she enjoy socializing? (You can switch gears in later seasons, but remember, right now you’re just trying to blaze a new trail.)
Tally the Fees
Surprise expenses add to the fun of youth sports, said no one, ever.
Before you get started, add up the fees for registration, gear, uniforms, snacks, coaches’ gift, end-of-season team party contribution, and potential event and travel fees (sports vary greatly on these).
Your league website should be able to offer some clues about what to expect.
Commit to Being the ‘Right Kind of Parent’
In the same way that the early years of elementary school are when kids develop good study habits, so too are these early years of youth sports a time when ‘good sports parents’ are born. As in, the kind of parents who, while understandably cheering for their own kids, refrain from:
- Booing the opposing team or its parents
- Blasting game officials
- Issuing anguished howls of doom over a loss
- Criticizing their children’s performance or that of their teammates
Youth sports is about fun and the #1 reason kids quit is that the adults suck all the joy out of the games. So commit, now, to being a good sports parent and you and your kids will enjoy years of extracurricular fun.
Time to Play Ball
Form a Carpool
Nothing will help you make friends faster (potentially for life) with the other team parents than offering to drive their kids to the first couple of practices or games. Especially if this isn’t their first season.
Identify the parents who live nearest you and create a carpool schedule. Even if your helicoptering habits have convinced you that you’ll be attending every practice and game, trust us when we warn that a day will come when you will need transportation help.
Keep the Schedule Out in the Open
Here’s how it’s going to go down. Your phone will buzz with the message: Is Johnnie coming to practice today? You will look at the clock and realize practice started 15 minutes earlier.
And there’s always this little gem. Are you still coming to pick-up Kate? Usually you’ll be reading this one as your own daughter happily takes the field.
Do yourself a favor: as soon as you get the team schedule, take a moment and plug everything – all the practices, games, team parent assignments, venue locations, etc. – into your digital calendar.
Then do it all again on a big whiteboard or physical wall calendar where you and your mate can see it, especially for when you’ve once again misplaced your mobile.
Prep Gear the Night Before
The tone of a practice or game is set long before you exit the front door. Get in the practice of packing all of your child’s gear into a gym bag the night before and placing it by the door.
With the clock ticking, teammates waiting, coach fuming, you can find yourself demanding to know why it’s taking Frankie so long to find his left cleat, or reminding Annie to think back to the last place she saw her league-required mouth guard.
And as any veteran of youth sports will tell you, it’s never as fun as when you show up for a game with the wrong jersey, the correct one invariably balled up under your child’s bed.
Get your kids into the habit of going through the mental checklist and packing the bags themselves. By the time they reach the travel leagues they’ll be pros you can trust.
The Gear You’ll Need
For the Kids
Water. Lots of it. Always.
Your kids will never remember to bring water. And they’ll naturally ‘need’ to rehydrate almost immediately upon reaching the field. Be eco-friendly and pick up a few reusable water bottles, then write your child’s name in BIG BOLD LETTERS all over them.
Same with snacks. Invariably your child will be ‘starving’ by half-time. Bring a few extras for a teammate or two (mostly because you’ll need a fellow team parent to bail you out when you forget your own one day).
Don’t forget extra clothes and shoes, since rain, sweat, mud, blood and god-only-knows what else will be smeared all over your child’s uniform.
If you’re outdoors, prepare for the elements, including bug spray, suntan lotion, and allergy meds.
For Everyone Else
Portable chair. If you take away nothing else from this post, remember this: there’s nothing that will drain the joy of youth sports from your veins faster than being forced to stand through an entire practice or game.
So get yourself one of those handy, inexpensive pop-up chairs – ideally with a baked-in umbrella for the inevitable rainstorms – and leave it in the car. You can thank us later.
Bring water and snacks for yourself as well. (It’s incredibly difficult to meet your child-athlete’s gaze when he realizes you ate his snack and drank his water on the sideline while he was killing himself on the soccer pitch.)
Other goodies you’ll want to consider bringing with you: sunglasses, good shoes (the new synthetic fields get HOT so leave your pets at home), a towel (to separate your young athlete from your car’s upholstery), and first aid kit (most coaches will have one but chances are you won’t discover your child’s oozing, bloody wound until you’re headed for the car).
Cool Down Period
We hope this survival guide to summer sports helps. Experience has taught us that the more you and your kids prepare for the upcoming season, the better it will play out for all involved.
You and your kids will be tested. You’ll come away with a lot of memories, some of them pretty darned good, some grand, some….
Mostly, remember this: your kids will grow up fast, so cherish these days while you’ve got them.
And for those who might be curious, yes, we’ll be working up a similar survival guide for fall and winter sports.