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A recent article by Katie Arnold, a staff writer for Outside Magazine, wrestled with the challenges of being a youth sport parent. And Katie’s story sounded very familiar to us: “Over the past couple of weeks, my husband and I have been wrestling with the decision over whether or not to play soccer. By we, I mean our two daughters. Steve and I aren't playing, but the commitment required of us as a family sometimes makes it seem that way: the thrice-weekly trips to the soccer complex on the far side of town, a solid 25 minutes' drive from home; the late practices that don't end until just before bedtime, leaving little time for family dinners, homework, and good old-fashioned goofing around; the Saturday games that conflict with family adventures already on the books... Our daughters are only four and six. It shouldn't be this complicated.” Balancing team sports with all of the other elements of a kid’s life – school, family, friends and play – is one of the greatest challenges youth sports parents can face. So this month, we sat down with the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance and asked: what does sports-life balance look like for kids?
Youth sports parents know that the culture of kids sports today is very different than it was back when we were kids: playing on club teams, school teams and travel teams; multiple practices a week, sometimes at the crack of dawn, long drives to reach tournaments and interstate competitions, the pressure to specialize earlier and earlier, and workouts away from the team are just a few of the things parents cite when talking about the “overly competitive” youth sports environment. And while we are the first, along with our friends at PCA, to extol the virtues of playing sports and the valuable life lessons kids can uniquely glean from their sports experience, we’re also united in the idea that kids (and parents!) need an off-season. Kids need time for unstructured play, and families need time together that doesn’t necessarily include coaches, practices and games. How then can we find the balance?
Here are some ideas for how to help find balance for you and your kids when it comes to sports:
1.Start With Setting Family Priorities. At the outset of trying to create a balanced life for your family, start with outlining what your goals are as a family. Businesses have mission statements, why not create one for your family? There are some good tools out there to help you get started (start your web search with ‘family mission statement’). By thinking about and then expressing your values and priorities, you’ll have an easier time seeing where sports can and should fit in.
2.Set Goals For Sports. What does your child want to get out of sports? Do you know? The team at PCA developed a great parent-child conversation tool called the 100-Point Exercise. You and your child individually rank your interest and priorities for the upcoming season, then compare notes. You might be surprised to learn that your child is playing sports because, first and foremost, they want to hang out with their friends. Okay – good to know! Then a Sunday hike or day at the pool with friends might fill that need as much as another travel team.
3.Choose Clubs/Teams Carefully. Look for programs that share your commitment to balancing family, school and sports. Does the program automatically bench any player who misses practice during the winter holidays?? And is that the time you and your family normally travel to see grandparents and extended family? Then maybe this isn’t the program for you. Create a list of questions for a program director and get those questions answered before signing your child up. It’s hard to be the kid who has to sit out a game because his parents scheduled a vacation, even if it was a vacation the whole family wanted to take.
4.Play Multiple Sports. While there is certainly a great deal of pressure out there to specialize at an early age, the research continues to show that athletes who reach the pinnacle of their sport do not have this early specialization approach. Just the opposite! They played multiple sports, had free time to run, bike with friends, skateboard, and shoot hoops in the driveway. Just listen to beach volleyball multiple gold-medalist Misty May-Treanor, USA Hockey’s Ryan McDonagh or soccer star Cobi Jones to hear how they each had this multiple-sport approach. Or check out the research on the benefits of playing multiple sports.
5.Set Sports Limits. Together with your child, decide what the limits are around sports. How many sports? How many teams per season? How many practices and games (that will help determine what program to join)? How many travel teams (versus home or school teams)? Once you agree, then stick to it!
6.Leave Time For Schoolwork. It goes without saying: school is important! Sometimes the “demands” of sports leave little time for homework and studying. But the fact is: Less than 1% of high school athletes play professionally, and you can bet that number is infinitely smaller when you consider the percentage of youth sports athletes who eventually play professionally. While it’s tempting to ride the wave of a winning season, shortchanging your child’s academics leaves them shortchanged for a lifetime, not just a season.
7.Free Time & Friends. “The more time children spend in structured, parent-guided activities, the worse their ability to work productively towards a self-directed goal,” according to a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado. (Want to read the study?) Kids need time for “free play” where they set the rules of the ‘game’ (as you probably did in your backyard or a park with the neighborhood kids when you were growing up), make the decisions, solve their own problems, and play with friends as equals.
8.Last But Not Least: Have Fun! Sports are supposed to be fun. And growing up, generally, should be a fun experience, too. When sport becomes a chore, creates family conflict, is contributing to burnout (in kids and parents alike!), or stretches the family budget too far, then the fun is being compromised and balance is missing. The number one reason – by far – that kids want to play sports is to have fun. Don’t lose sight of the fun in sports. And don’t lose sight of the fact that family fun happens outside of sports as well.
How are you and your family balancing your youth sports life? What steps have you taken as a family or as a parent to create balance? What’s happening in your sports life that threatens that balance? What tips and advice could you share with fellow parents struggling to find balance in youth sports? Let us know! We’ll gladly share your thoughts with our Play Positive community. Email us at email@example.com or join the conversation on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PlayPositive.
Read more at https://play-positive.libertymutual.com/newsletter/2059/Fundamentals-%7C-Has-Youth-Sports-%27Hijacked%27-Your-Life%3f?src=cm-deml-brd-plp-pp1410102608&utm_source=pp&utm_medium=e&utm_term=oct14&utm_content=balancesportspartent&utm_campaign=fundamentals#irOwWLt64b4fS71g.99
If you’ve watched the NCAA Basketball Tournaments like we have, you’ve heard the stories of the Cinderella teams, the long-shots and the underdogs. The teams who enter the game with the pundits thinking they don’t have a chance to win. But when players and coaches alike believe in themselves, sometimes the improbable can happen. And while it’s fun as a fan to cheer for the underdog from the comfort of your couch, this month we wondered: how do Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents mentally prepare their youth athletes for games where they are the underdog?
VP of Basketball
Director of Traveling Basketball