How do you keep balance in a family where a child is dedicated to sports, but you also want to create family memories to reflect on years from now? Balancing youth sports and family life can be tricky if you are not intentional about it.
Here are the reasons why balancing youth sports and family life is best for everyone and how you can make it a priority for your family moving forward.
My daughter is quickly approaching the summer leading into her senior year of high school. But today, she is mourning the loss of the spring softball season. We are all mourning the loss of many things including all the plans we made for the spring of 2020. It is interesting how priorities shift to what’s really important when lives are on the line. But what about next year? Will this experience cause us to rearrange the pressing obligations for the more meaningful choices? I don’t know.
Ask my kid though, and she would tell you that all the time on the field, at practice, and every game was priceless to her. And she would not want to change a thing. I confess, I’m not sure I would agree, I really wish were intentional about taking more family trips together and exposed my girls to more of the world they live in. But I’m eternally happy that she looks back on her childhood with fondness and no regrets.
So… how can you as the parent help balance sports time and family time so all the members of the family benefit from each day spent? Let’s talk a look.
No regrets. That is your ultimate goal. When it comes to balancing youth sports and family life, you don’t want to look back years from now with regret. But unfortunately, this can happen if you and your athlete are so focused on developing as a player during the summer months that you don’t take time to enjoy life.
I have known many families that committed season after season completely dedicated to one child’s pursuit of his favorite sport, for years on end, forsaking vacations, their other kids’ interests [Whoa, what? But you can’t be at three places at once can you, someone is going to get the short end of the stick], family finances and their own personal pursuits to then have that child completely burnt out and quit his junior year. No senior year, dreams of playing in college dashed (and the subsequent scholarships you were banking on, who are we kidding here), and Pros out of the question.
What was all that for? Tons of regret and bitterness from both sides. Was it the child that really wanted it, or was it the parents driving him, was it a little of both? In the end, you cannot force your child to keep playing, no matter how much time and money you’ve invested in them.
I think most parents of kids who play sports imagine a future when their child plays at the professional or Olympic level and their child will thank them profusely for all the dedication and sacrifice their parents invested in their potential. Now they are pro ballers, for instance, and all that time, dedication, money, and energy would have been worth it. But what is the percentage of us human beings that make it to that level?
According to the NCAA website: “Many boys and girls grow up dreaming of playing sports in college and beyond. But of the nearly 8 million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 495,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And of that group, only a fraction will realize their goal of becoming a professional or Olympic athlete.”
To that end, I recommend establishing as much balance as possible into your family’s commitment to youth sports for your children. So that it can be a blessing to them and to everyone else.
No one is promised tomorrow. Make the best of the present.
I write this in the time of Corona. We don’t even know if there will be a summer sports season this year. Spring Softball was canceled, sadly, and it broke my daughter’s heart. But what about the summer? If summer ball is on, and the world is a little bit safer, more relaxed, and back to “normal”, would we want to spend our time committed to the softball field? Or would we like the FREEDOM to take our entire family on vacation and build some positive memories from this awful year?
The question is how can we balance both?
Create healthy boundaries that fit your family plan
Have a family meeting to establish what balance means
Speaking earlier of expectation. Why not sit down over ice cream, cookies and milk with your family and have a family meeting to establish priorities over sports obligations and expectations?
Let everyone come to the table with their ideas of what’s important and a priority to them. Ask everyone to pitch in and add their input so that all members of the family get heard.
Work your priorities around that and come up with a list so everyone is clear. Some questions to ask each child and adult in the family are:
- How would you feel if we were on the field/track/court/gym, nearly every weekend this summer? Or several nights a week? Would you be excited about that or are you more interested in pursuing other things this summer?
- What is one place you definitely want to go to or see this summer?
- What is one activity you want to take part in that would make this summer really memorable for you?
- Let them come up with a summer bucket list and see how many of these your family can check off.
- What are the boundaries you want to make regarding protecting worship time?
Sports commitment or family vacations? Which is the priority?
Speaking of summer bucket lists, one question to consider is whether the sports season should eclipse possible weekend/vacation outings and the potential memories that could be created?
For our family, softball cuts right into the spring break we should be enjoying. Basketball tournaments for the travel team would cut into the Winter Vacation so traveling to see family out of state for more than a day or two was tough.
Team practices, scrimmages, and games take over in priority when your kid makes the team. I have heard that you really shouldn’t leave one kid home alone to go to practices while the rest of you take off for vacation, so what is a family to do?
Then in the summer, there were a number of years we participated in summer tournament leagues that left summer vacation plans up in the air.
When do you make trades in balancing youth sports and family life?
What happens to your heart when your kid gives up or gets cut from making the varsity team in the 12th grade and you realized you forfeited vacations for years?
This is especially true if only one of your children is benefitting from all this devoted time on the field.
Expensive sports fees or a healthy savings account?
Balance family finances for expensive travel teams and tourney teams with vacation money. Some families can’t do both especially with more than one kid.
Release the guilt associated with feeling like you have to provide the best of the softball programs for your child to enjoy and flourish in the sport. If you cannot do both, take the family vacation instead. That time together will be more valuable than 10 weekends sitting on the grass watching girls play ball in the sweltering heat. Ask me how I know.
Think about all this and make intentional decisions that are right for your family long term.
Let’s talk about injuries
Unfortunately, our family has some experience in dealing with season-ending injuries. The effect on mental and physical well being can be heartbreaking for your athletes and mess up plans big time. But what can you do about injuries? They are part of the mix and risk of sports (and life). You cannot avoid them.
Having a plan for how to handle the disappointment of an injury can soften the blow for the rest of the family.
Injuries are even more devastating for them if all your kid has to look forward to is the sports season. So how can they have that balance in their lives so that there is more to their life than sports?
Choose a youth sports program with priorities that are aligned to your family life goals
Talk to the director of the sports program you are considering signing up your child for. Be clear with them and have them be clear with you what expectations are. Have transparent dialogue with them to what your family “rules” are. If you have religious boundaries, you would share those, and I would hope your director or coach would respect them. Same should be true of your family boundaries and expectations.
Just Say No
I always say, no is a complete sentence. But if you need to explain the reasons for your boundaries with your coach or your child’s teammates, by all means, do. It may be helpful in their pursuit of developing healthy boundaries and balance around youth sports and family life too.
Create a well-rounded athlete.
Introduce her to other sports she can participate in after her competitive team sports career is over.
Don’t let the pressure to be a one-sport all year around athlete suck the fun out it for your kids by having them work so hard.
Being able to participate in other sports or school activities throughout the year can increase excitement (for you all!) when the season is actually upon you.
There are some exceptions to this. Gymnastics and dance are two sports that come to mind that involve year around training. What other activities (not too many, those athletes already have enough on their plates) can your daughter add that would be enjoyable and enhance her love for her main sport even more?
You know what they say, variety is the spice of life.
This should go without saying. Every single athlete including professional athletes will see the end of their playing careers. How well they prepared their minds for the next phase of their life will determine their overall long term success and well-being.
Be sure your athlete knows that above all, her education is the most important factor in preparing for her future wellness.
Sleep & overall wellness is important
Make sure your kiddo gets a good amount of sleep. This is so much harder to achieve than you would think during the season. When games and practices end well into the evening it can be quite difficult for our kids to settle down in time enough to get a good night’s sleep. Let alone if they need to come home and continue to work on their studies after games or practice. Yikes.
See what you can do to help your child establish good schoolwork habits and life habits to make this all work in balance.
Plus, we know when our kids get a job of their own added to the schedule, rest comes at a true premium. Help them figure out a schedule that will work for them. It will be hard for them to get this right on their own.
Add family time into the mix
Don’t forget how important all your family bonding time activities are. Be intentional in your schedule to make room for game night, date night with your kids, and your family tradition events.
Do not allow sports to interfere with your important family time. Years later when sports become a distant memory, your kids will remember special times spent with you far over what the score was in that game they won 3 decades earlier.
Do not let any coach or organization bulldoze over treasured family time. Especially treasured holiday family time. Create healthy boundaries.
Build free-time and social life outside sports into the family life
Your child needs a social life outside of sports. We have one daughter that dedicated so much time to sports that she didn’t have time for friends by the time school, after-school homework was done, practice/game time, dinner, more schoolwork and showers, and bedtime was through. Then add to that when she started to work part-time. Done. No time at all.
Gratefully, her teammates were her friends so she was able to enjoy them in that capacity, but what if she didn’t make time for other friends that did not play her sport? See how easily that could create problems?
In fact, I think that what she misses that most about the cancelation of the spring sports season, her connection with her friends. It was mostly done on the field, not off, so she really misses the interaction and has no fall back plan.
Allowing free time and a social life outside of sports is critical for overall well-being for girls.
Suggest sleepovers or girls nights foster those friendships even when she might be exhausted. She will gain energy from them and lasting memories.
Guard your mother-daughter bonding time too. I cannot emphasize this enough, your time with your kids cannot be all about driving them from Place A to Place B. They need time to feel connected to you and vice versa.
A busy life can become an isolated life, so help protect your children from social isolation.
Allow for spontaneity in your schedule and life
If your family is chained to the field, gym, arena, etc., and your weekends are always blocked off, that’s no bueno. What if a friend wanted to invite your family up to the lake for a weekend of boating and smores by the fire? Would you have to decline because you have a soccer game? Yikes!
What if you won tickets to a concert for your family? Would you have to give it up because your kid had a basketball game at 4:00?
God forbid if your mom was suddenly severely ill, could you all drop everything on all your schedules to drive 200 miles to see her for the weekend? Would you need to beg permission from your kid’s coaches? Would your kid understand deep inside how that is more important than that playoff game they were looking forward to?
See where I am going with this? Prioritize and try not to pile up your schedule so high that you can’t change tacks at a moment’s notice for something that is a huge priority for you all.
Along with that, build in your child the right set of priorities that aligns with your family’s beliefs, so that expectations are clear to everyone.
Balancing youth sports and family time can become harmonious for you
Make some intentional decisions this year to choose family time over sport commitments. It may hurt for a minute for your little athlete but it will enhance your life in the end. After all the ultimate goal is a joyful life.
Other articles on sports family life
- 6 Easy Tasks for Successful Softball Season Prep
- Softball Mom Bag: Which Essentials should Bench Coaches have on hand?
- Good Sportsmanship: How To Keep Your Cool At Games
- How to Joyfully Survive the Softball Tournament Season (Podcast Episode)
- How to Make a Softball Tournament fun for the Whole Family
- How To Best Prepare Your Car For Travel Softball
Chandra is the chocolate-chip loving mother of 2 teenage girls who started over again with a baby boy in her 40’s! She is the author of The Mom’s Playbook to Conquering Softball Season. She gives other moms the tools they need to prepare their daughters for real life. Her content is centered on helping girls grow up to be well-rounded, equipped, expressive, confident, intelligent, capable, kind and independent.