As football season rolls around again this time of year, many parents are confronted with the prospect of having practice and games encroach on the family schedule in a significant way. As my wife Jessica used to say, “You receive a card in the mail from the YMCA that says, ‘Soccer or T-Ball sign-ups are next Saturday.’ You realize that if you do not respond immediately, your child will never get to play on a team with his friends for the rest of his life. What you may not know is that you are signing away the next four months of your life by sending that card back in!”
Is it that serious? Sadly, yes. Practice two nights a week and games on Tuesdays and Saturdays make for a change in the dinner schedule, to say the least. And, if you have more than one child registering, both parents and all family members go on this whirlwind until the end of the season.
What is a parent to do? These team things are fun and important, for sure. We have met lifelong friends on sports teams. We have created a cache of memories that will go with us to the grave. Since my boys are grown, we often reminisce about winning the football super bowl or the regional soccer tournament. Somehow, we just do not have the same memories about raking the yard or painting the house on a Saturday morning. However, you must be willing to give up some things to take part in life-changing, memory-making activities.
My advice to you is fourfold:
1. Make sure all of your children have a chance to play on several little-league-type teams.
2. Make sure you know the coach. (I want a coach who teaches sound fundamentals and seeks to make every player better and feel special. That is why I coach my own kids if possible.)
3. Make sure your gifted, super-involved athlete has ample opportunity to play at higher levels.
4. Do not allow all of life to center around the sports career of one child (usually the eldest). I have seen a plethora of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers dragged to countless sports events of an older brother, only to be told “no” when their time came to be on a team. The parents were too worn out to sit through another game of any kind.
Balance is the key. When that card comes in the mail, prayer and a good family discussion are necessary before a knee-jerk reaction is made to mail the card back. The entire family schedule should be evaluated and a decision made in a logical way. It is important to train your children to honor their commitments to their teams, so make sure everyone is willing to drive to all the practices and attend all of the games (within reason).
I am not saying to throw the card in the trash. As a coach of many teams for the last thirty years or so, sports have been an important part of my life personally and professionally. Sports have been a source of character growth, as well as physical and emotional growth, in all four of my sons. We have been able to impact the culture as a family through our sports teams and leagues, so we are proponents of good sports leagues. But, we are also strongly in favor of family time and a workable family schedule. We have chosen to play certain sports, and pass on others, because our decisions were made based on what was best for each child in the context of our entire family. Sometimes the family sacrificed, and sometimes the child did.
An informed, deliberate decision is crucial to family togetherness. So, avoid the knee-jerk reaction and make a decision that works for everyone, for that season!
Author’s note: Beware of the coach who wants to take your child for twenty or thirty hours a week. That is way too much time to be involved in figure skating, ballet, gymnastics, or team sports. Talk about giving away your child to someone else! UGH!