Four Keys to Integrating Youth Sports with Family

child playing soccerWith funding for physical education classes dwindling all across the country, childhood obesity rates making headlines, and children sitting in front of complex technology for hours every day, most American parents feel the need to get their school-aged children moving. The days of playing outside in the neighborhood until the streetlights come on are all but gone. Team sports have become the way our children play.

Not only are organized sports a way to help children learn to move their bodies in ways that can bring pleasure, increased health and physical fitness, and establish habits they can carry into their adult lives, well-led teams can help players develop personal discipline, the ability to manage disappointment and loss, and a willingness to sacrifice for a group.

But it’s not all sweetness and light. Coaching quality is all over the board. Adding practices, games, and volunteer time into already busy family schedules can overwhelm even the most organized parents. It can be quite expensive to sign up to participate, and then to spend even more money to buy equipment, some of which your children may outgrow or wear through before the season is out. Many teams require parent and player volunteer time to help manage concessions, tournaments, etc. All of these concerns are multiplied with additional sports at different times of the year and/or more children participating. This repeats year after year, assuming your child continues to play.

Sports can result in injury, too. Learning how to deal with a sprained ankle, torn ligament, or inflamed joint is part of the game, especially at higher levels.

And then there are the other parents. Most of these moms and dads are wonderful support to their children—and yours. But there are those miserable few who live out their own frustrations through their children’s actions, humiliate their children in public, and turn the sideline into the stuff of reality shows.

Despite all the potential pitfalls, the positive aspects of organized sports generally outweigh the negatives. Knowing this, how can we better manage the problematic aspects of adding sport into family life?

  1. Parents must be willing to see their child’s sport as one of their own hobbies. It will require enormous commitments of time during the season, and if you decide to coach, that time will at least triple. This means that each parent, whether directly involved in the team or not, will need to fit this into his or her weekly personal schedule. Easier said than done.
  2. Parents will need to decide if their child’s favorite sport can fit into the family budget. A sport such as ice hockey will require more of the family’s money—for equipment, ice time, and, perhaps, travel to other rinks—than a sport such as basketball, which requires less equipment and can use public and school gyms.
  3. If you are new to the team sport experience, do not allow your child to focus on a single sport early in his or her development. Research continues to show what many of us know from experience: single-sport focus leads to repetitive injury, over-training of specific body parts, mental fatigue, and burnout. Encourage your young athlete to seek out other team or individual sports they want to try out, and allow them to follow their imagination, their friends, or their favorite professional athletes until they find good fits.
  4. Don’t allow sports to trump your other core family commitments, such as faith or family vacation. In the past 10 years, sports programs in my area have scheduled games and practices on Sunday mornings, over school breaks, and even on major religious or federal holidays. How can you manage your child’s religious education and play soccer too? Keep talking about how you want to spend your family time—and follow through.

With a lot of enthusiasm, family commitment, flexibility, and encouragement, youth sports can become a wonderful, life-giving experience for your young athlete as well as his or her parents. Everyone can benefit if the family is able to manage the schedule, financial obligations, and physical challenges that youth sports present.

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  • dawson

    April 10th, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is great when the family can find something for the kids to excel at and they support them from a very early age. But what I hate to see happen is for the parents to become overly involved and to try to micromanage every single thing from the coach to the kid and then that becomes a little too serious a lot too soon. This is where so many of the coach/parent conflicts that we hear about probably stem from and really, youth sports are not anything to have to feel like you should have to get into a fight over. I think that sports can teach kids a whole lot and that is great when it is a whole lot of the right thing and not so much of the wrong stuff that we are trying to have them avoid in the first place. I hope that more parents will think about this as summer rolls around and we start thinking ahead to fall and what we can have our kids involved in next year.

  • Lisa

    April 10th, 2014 at 12:37 PM

    I have been sports mom for my boys for as long as they have wanted to play and I think that my best recommendation if you are new to this world is to start off in some leagues that aren’t as competitive, like maybe at a local church league or the YMCA, somewhere where you and your kids can learn about the sports and they can gain some confidence. I would also stress that I would never, never let my kids play for a coach that I would not want to have to house for dinner.

  • Sophie F

    April 11th, 2014 at 3:27 AM

    So glad that my kids have always wanted to do things that were more individual in nature, like music and arts. I know that the whole sports scene can be good for them and can end up being lucrative if the child is good, but how many times does that really happen? More often than not what we see are the stories about bad sportsmanship, not the good things and life lessons that should be coming from organized teams and it made me happy that we never had to be a part of that. For the teams that make it work I aapplaud them because I know that they are teaching some children some valuable lessons, but I would rather stay on the sidelines with this one of you will.

  • paige

    April 11th, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    Sports are great if you are the right child for them.
    There are some kids who are naturally athletically gifted and then there are others who can’t kick a ball even if it isn’t moving!
    Thosse are the kids who might be better served finding something else to be involved in
    because I think that there are times when sports can shoot their self esteem down
    Instead of building it up the way you would hope that it would.

  • brad

    April 12th, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    All of my kids have played sports and we have gotten a lot out of it but I have to put my foot down when it comes to Sunday games and practices. That is family and church day, and we try not to let othert things take precedence over the importance of that time spent together.

  • Gregory

    April 12th, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    Any thoughts on what to do if your little guy has a one track mind and doesn’t want to focus on anything but the one sport that he has zoned in on? I want him to try some different things but he is adamant that only baseball will do. Do I encourage this or make him try some other stuff even if he is not all that interested?

  • edith

    April 14th, 2014 at 4:36 AM

    I totally disagree that parents should come to see this sports involvement as one of their own hobbies. Sadly I think that this is where a lot of parents and other adults get messed up in their thinking because they start to live vicariously through their kids and it does become so much more about the adults than the children. With the parents thinking that this is their thing I think this is when you have fights on the field, conflict with the coaches and other families, and it is a real problem in youth sports today. It should be nothing more for you than a commitment to get the kids where they need to be and when they need to be there and to be their number one cheerleader. That’s it.

  • Trey

    April 15th, 2014 at 4:34 AM

    You don’t have to be consumed by them if you are looking for getting the right things out of the participation. This should be about learning and growing and learning to work with others as part of a team. It isn’t about making anyone the best player in the neighborhood or winning scholarships. Above all it should be about having fun.

  • Regan

    April 16th, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Budget was a big thing with us. My daughter wanted to take horseback riding lessons. Do you know how expensive that was? Way out of our league!

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