If you have kids, you have probably endured seasons of organized youth sports. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, swimming, volleyball – the list of options for kids is seemingly endless and can keep them occupied from January to December. If your kid wants to play a lot of different sports, it can be both a very expensive proposition for you and a very time-consuming obligation for your entire family. That is why you really need to have a plan when it comes to scheduling sports for your children.
Exercise is good. You should encourage your children to get exercise every day and support them when they tell you that they want to play a sport. If you wait until your kids are old enough to know about team sports, they will be behind the learning curve and you will likely find your child has fallen behind his or her peers. To remedy this, you really need to start your child in youth sports as soon as you feel that he or she is mature enough to handle an organized sport.
The YMCA has a great youth sports program for younger children. Regardless of the sport, kids will typically play one game per week and have one practice per week, neither of which will last more than 60 minutes. Our local Y offers basketball, tee-ball, flag football and soccer on a rotating basis throughout the year, at a cost of less than $50 for Y members (per season) and usually less than $100 for non-members. Y sports tend to emphasize teamwork and team values while giving players a basic understanding of the sport that they are playing. They also give your child (and you) exposure to several different sports so that your child can decide what he or she actually likes and you can assess where your child may actually have talent.
Let your Child Play
Many parents sign their kids up for youth sports because they believe that their child is going to be a star some day. The odds of your child being a star in any sport are slim. You need to accept that at an early age. There is nothing wrong with dreaming or working toward a dream, but chances are that your child will not even make the high school team in his or her chosen sports. That means that if your child decides to give up a sport or try a new sport, you should not be concerned about his or her chances to get a college scholarship just because he or she gave up tennis at age 9. If your child hates a sport or prefers another sport, they should not have to suffer through season after season just because you think it is good for them. That will only make them resent you and can increase the likelihood that they will be injured playing the sport that they hate.
Learn the Sport that your Child Loves
If your child loves baseball and you know nothing about it, start learning. There are a host of books available which can teach parents how to coach their kids in just about every subject. Youth sports coaches are usually volunteers and they may know even less than you do about a sport. It is painful to watch a child struggle with a sport, especially when the reason for the struggle is due to poor coaching. If you take the time to learn the basics of a sport – and coaching the sport – you will have the basis for filtering out the bad coaching that your child receives and your child will appreciate you all the more as he or she gets older. If you are spending money on a sport, your child should at least be able to enjoy it, regardless of his or her talent.
Learn the Physical Risks Associated with a Sport
If your child is playing basketball, does he or she wear a mouth guard? If your child is playing baseball, do you know how to buy a helmet or how to show him how to put on an athletic cup? Do you make your child wear a helmet when he cycles? Regardless of the sport, and regardless of the amount of caution that we employ, anyone can be injured when playing a sport.
Learn what kind of stretching your child should be doing before and after a practice. Learn how many pitches your child should be allowed to throw each week. Listen when your child complains of a persistently sore muscle and take him to the doctor when he does. Your child may resist a lot of the preventive medicine that you prescribe, whether it is the requirement that he or she wear protective equipment or the requirement that he or she stretch, but you will be doing the right thing as a parent. You will also be saving money in trips to the doctor and hospital that you will not have to take.
Do Not Overspend on Equipment and Do Not Buy the Wrong Equipment
If your child is 8 eight years old, you do not have any reason to spend $300 on a baseball bat, but I have known parents who have done just that. If your child is an 11 year old runner, you do not need $250 running shoes, but I have known parents to spend that much. Price and quality – even utility – do not always go hand in hand. If you do not know how to choose a helmet (bike, football, batting or whatever), if you do not know how to purchase a baseball bat or a pair of running shoes, thoroughly research those items before you even consider buying them. Talk to a lot of other parents on your child’s team to gain their perspective and experience. Talk to sales people at specialty stores that cater to the specific sport that your child plays. Read up on the subject on the Internet. Take a few days to digest the information and then decide on what you will buy your child.
Even after you have decided on the product you want to buy, make sure you also know how to properly size it. I’ve seen seven year old baseball players trying to swing bats that would be too big for high school players. When I have told parents that their child needs a new bat because it is too large (or too small), they have reacted with anger because they “just spent $275 on that bat.” I’ve then politely changed the subject, but always thought that it is a shame that parental largess, ill-conceived and unnecessary, will cause the child to struggle for an entire season.
Do Not Pay Needlessly for Professional Lessons
A lot of parents I know have spent thousands of dollars so that their kids can have professional lessons. Casual players do not need professional lessons. Unless your child is old enough to know that he or she really wants to pursue a sport competitively and is really enjoying the sport, you should not spend a lot of money adding professional lessons to your child’s routine. It only adds pressure to your child’s day and cost to your wallet. If your child has shown truly amazing potential in a sport, you can discuss professional training with your child and with various coaches, but paying for training for a recreational player is not a good use of time or money, at least until the player is closer to high school age and able to make a commitment to a sport.
Do Not Over-extend
You cannot be in ten places at once. Neither can your child. Do not sign your child up for more sports (or other activities) than you and your child can handle. Similarly, do not sign your child up for sports that will conflict with school work or act as a drag on your child’s studies.
We always told our children that they could play one sport per season. Even with that limitation, my wife and I often found that our kids had conflicting sports on the same nights and we each would have to miss one of the kids’ events. Even that was manageable for us, but we noticed that many parents did not share that approach. I coached baseball and basketball for many years. I cannot count the number of times my teams had players missing games because they had other sports to attend. One year, even though I had 12 kids on my team, I never had a full team for any game during the entire 20 game season. Apart from being unfair to the team, why would a parent want to spend money to sign a child up for a sport that they would not really have the time to play?
Know When it is Time to Change Sports
One of my sons loved baseball. The love started to fade when he was about 10 and by the time he was 13, we knew he was playing the sport only because he did not want to leave the sport he had been playing for so long. My wife and I had a long talk with him and pointed out that he was an accomplished runner and would soon be starting high school. Perhaps he should take a season off from baseball and run on his middle school track team?
After about a week of painful debate (a debate which the track team won after my son realized that the track team had 45 girls on the squad and his baseball team had none), my son decided to take a season off from baseball. My son never played baseball again, but he did go on to run on his high school’s varsity cross country team as a freshman, a source of pride for him unlike anything he had ever really experienced as a baseball player.
It is your job as a parent to help your child to make the tough decisions that they confront. Many times you will find that a child is playing a sport not because they like it, but because they do not want to let you down or because they are afraid of losing their friends. You need to make sure that your child feels that you will be proud of them regardless of what sports and activities they pursue and that they understand that the point to playing is to have fun and to learn. If they are not having fun, they are just throwing away a lot of priceless pieces of their childhood, along with your money. You need to do your best to make sure that does not happen.
Image courtesy of Ozone Ferd