In Children’s Sports, Parenting Goes into OT

Kids_and_sports-300x199Preparing for a weekend of sports games can be mentally and logistically daunting for the typical Massachusetts suburban family with two kids who each play two team sports. Sometimes it can feel like so much management and effort that, by the time the games begin, parents feel like they need a vacation in front of the TV — they are ready to turn their brains off completely.

For two-children families, gear can include balls, sticks, bats, water bottles, knee pads, chin guards, mouthguards, gloves, tape, and up to four uniforms consisting of shoes, hats or helmets, socks, jerseys, pants — and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! All this equipment has to be labeled and uniquely identifiable, which can be challenging given that kids are doing their best to all look exactly the same. And then there’s the care and maintenance required: uniforms have to be washed after the practices and games that occurred earlier in the week or between games on the weekends.

Gear-wise, in today’s materially-oriented culture, non-specialized equipment is no longer sufficient. Sneakers are no substitute for cleats and soccer cleats are different from baseball cleats which are different from lacrosse cleats. Parents wonder: While the cleats are slightly different in each sport, are they really necessary? Isn’t the dirt the same, regardless of the sport?

Each kid has his or her own sports schedule which parents need to coordinate to accommodate them both. Car pools help out, but parents should be prepared to hear, “I’m happy to drive your child, but I’m not sure I can keep track of all his stuff.” Parents gratefully accept the ride anyway wondering how they can effectively coach their typically absent-minded 8-year-old to remember to come home with all his belongings. So they can call and remind him to check his belongings, some consider getting their child a cellphone, amounting to another piece of equipment for him to keep track of. Imagine managing your child, over the phone, while he manages his gear!

I have made more than one oversight myself this sports season. In fact, just this morning my phone rang before 8. My kids were with their father for the weekend (we are a split family) and I had forgotten to pack my younger son’s lacrosse helmet. I needed to get it to him and if he was late to his game it would be my fault. I breathed deeply, feeling the sweat on my tight palms that clutched the steering wheel. Although I stopped myself from actually speeding, my mind was speeding, wondering how I could have overlooked the helmet. Some parents might rely on their kids to manage their gear, but kids’ brains aren’t developed to that level of organization, attention, and memory. In fact, many adult brains are lacking in those areas. Many parents and children already use the strategies that I preach about — the lists, schedules, charts and reminders — and still they miss things sometimes because they’re human and they may be pushing themselves to perform at superhuman levels.

When I arrived to meet my kids with the lacrosse helmet my older son greeted me with a big smile and hug. He helped me feel more like I’d done something right. As for my younger son, he’s pretty forgiving and tends to let go of things once he’s through them. I’ll want to apologize, though, and tell my boys that next time we’ll be more organized with their gear before they leave for the weekend.

I know that when my boys come home tonight, they won’t be thinking about what happened with the lacrosse helmet this morning. Instead, they’ll want to plan their play activities for after school tomorrow. I remind myself that for my boys playing sports is about their love of the game with a team of boys they call their friends. As a parent, I can learn a lot about what’s important by watching and listening to my kids.

We need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we’re doing our best. We might continue to be stressed about getting everything perfect, but that’s what 21st century parents do. Many parents will coach their kids to take more responsibility and the kids will continue to make mistakes despite their efforts. The best armor for parents, children and families during a weekend jam-packed with sports games is a realistic outlook. Let’s face it: parents and kids will try their best and still have mishaps. That’s OK, because sports games are just that — games, not life-or-death events. Planning for tomorrow’s fun is much more important than thinking about what went wrong today.

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