This month, Ministry to Parents helps parents lead their kids On-The-Go. We asked one of M2P’s authors, Heather Stoll, to share her experience of eight years in the sports world with her son’s travel baseball team. If your parents are busy with kids’ sports, download and email them this free PDF.
10 PARENTING HACKS FOR SPORTS
In case you missed it, youth sports are big in the U.S. In fact, roughly 45 million children currently participate in an organized sport. They aren’t all playing the same one, either. From soccer and t-ball to football and basketball, kids can play a different sport every season. There are also endless options for the level of play. Do you want introductory or competitive? Do you want to play locally or travel to big tournaments?
The benefits are also well-documented. “Children who start participating in sports between the ages of 6 to 12 have 40 percent higher test scores, 7 to 8 percent higher lifetime earnings, a 15 percent increased likelihood of college attendance and a significantly lower instance of obesity.” Kids who play sports also learn the benefits of teamwork and hard work, develop discipline and perseverance, and improve their social skills.
Although we’ve established that kids playing sports is a good thing, the stress on the family can be significant. The demands of practices, games, snack duty, and uniforms can put a strain on your time, your finances, and your family’s schedule!
So how can you enjoy the moments and opportunities that sports provide, and also maintain your sanity? Consider implementing these parenting hacks for sports, and your family will be winning—both on and off the court or field!
Start at the Beginning.
Whether your child has never touched a ball of any kind or he has been kicking a soccer ball in the backyard since he could walk, start at the beginning. In other words, don’t try out for the city’s elite league or the local all-start team in your first sports season. It has nothing to do with your child’s athletic ability or understanding. Instead, it provides your family a chance to acclimate to life with sports—and all it entails. Before you jump into a significant lifestyle change, learn to adjust to sports practice once or twice a week. Figure out how to manage the carpool, the mealtimes, the extra laundry, the game commitments, and the impacts on other children or family members. If your child loves or excels in a particular sport, there will be plenty of time in the future to go “all-in!”
Establish a Budget.
Youth sports are expensive. In addition to the registration fees, families incur the expense of uniforms, equipment, gate fees, and food on the go. If travel is involved, it can be equivalent to a mini-vacation a couple of times a month. That’s why establishing a budget for sports is essential. Decide in advance how much you can commit to this portion of your family’s life. If opportunities arise that exceed your budgeted amount, you can choose to participate in fundraising activities, seek extra work, or sacrifice in another area. Include your child in this process. Explain that extra-curricular activities cost money and help them contribute (depending on their age—financially or with wise choices) to the cause.
Create and Use a Digital Calendar.
Google Calendar is the top choice among digital calendars, but there are other free options available. Whatever you choose, create a personal calendar for every family member, as well as a family event calendar. Record and sync practices and games, color-code each calendar, and set multiple notifications (aka reminders) for each entry. Include notes on who is driving the carpool, when you have snack duty, or what practice jersey is required. Don’t forget to share each calendar with everyone in the family!
Create a Sports Survival Kit.
Gather/borrow/purchase everything you will need to survive the season and keep it in a container in your car (easy to temporarily remove if needed). Your kit should include chairs, blanket(s), towel(s), wet wipes, umbrella(s), jacket/raincoat, an extra t-shirt, non-perishable snacks, small toys/books (for younger siblings), a little cooler, an extra phone charger, a meal-on-the-go kit (paper plates/utensils/napkins), and some extra cash. As the season progresses, add a note/reminder to the calendar to replenish or add items that you need (or notice!).
Build an Emergency Sports Kit.
Gather/purchase everything you need to combat minor problems on the go. Stock a first aid kit with band-aids, bug repellent, itch cream, ace bandage wrap, baby powder (especially in the summer!), and pain reliever (liquid and tablet). Include Ziploc bags of various sizes (for ice packs), an extra pair of socks and undergarments, and copies of your child’s insurance cards and birth certificate.
Game Stats and Moments Journal.
You think you will always remember your child’s first hit or game-winning goal. You can’t imagine forgetting a moment of that weekend when your daughter’s team won the tournament. Unfortunately, though, games start running together, and seasons turn into months and even years. No matter where you are in your child’s sports career, grab a notebook or journal, and start now. Don’t overthink it or complicate it. Just jot down the date, the team, the location, the final score, and any stats or moments you want to remember. Keeping a game journal not only records the stats and scores, but it preserves memories, helps you celebrate successes, charts, and tracks progress and growth, and becomes a tangible reminder of the journey.
Create a Photo Storage/Organization Plan.
Establish a place to save all your photos and moments from the season(s). Create a social media album, a Google Drive or Dropbox folder, or an album on a photo-sharing site. As you capture events and moments throughout the season, save them directly and immediately to this place where you can access them at any time.
Create a Soccer (or basketball or football) Folder (Email & Computer)
Create a folder in your email inbox and digital space (desktop, Evernote, Dropbox, etc.) for each sport for each child. As you process your emails, put everything related to the sport in the folder (even if you respond). As documents or forms come in (practice or game schedule, snack schedules, permission slips, etc.), scan them immediately into your computer and save them that desktop folder. Go ahead and put a copy of their birth certificate and insurance card in there, as well. You never know when you will need it (Extra hack: download a scanning app on your phone so that you can scan docs and forms on the go!)
Plan Easy, Freezer Late-Night Meals
Sports schedules make meal-planning a challenge. Freezer meals are a great item to prepare and have on hand. But when you come home after a late game or practice with a hungry crew (even if you ate an early dinner!), you don’t have time to cook a casserole—even if it is prepped and ready to bake. You need 5-minute meals! Here are some great late-night meal hacks.
• Barbecue Sandwiches. Pre-purchase barbecue from a local restaurant, divide it into meal-size portions and freeze. Quick thaw in the microwave, put it on a bun, and add some sauce. Hot and delicious!
• Chicken Wraps. Purchase frozen, pre-cooked chicken strips or chunks. Quick thaw in the microwave, add veggies, cheese, sour cream, salsa, etc. and roll in a fresh tortilla.
• Tacos. Freeze meal-sized portions of cooked ground beef. Quick thaw the meat in the microwave, stuff in taco shells, and dress with cheese, lettuce, taco sauce, sour cream, and salsa.
• Mexican Bowls. Thaw meal-sized portions of ground beef or chicken. Layer over pre-cooked rice, along with chopped peppers and onions, cheese, salsa, sour cream, etc. You can also add black or pinto beans.
• Spaghetti. Make your favorite homemade spaghetti sauce. Freeze individual portions. Quick thaw in the microwave and serve over fresh-cooked pasta. (You will have to prepare the pasta, but it’s still less than 10 minutes from freezer to table.)
Plan (and Send) Easy, Extra Snacks
Depending on the age and stage of your child’s sports involvement, they may be going straight from school to practice. Most kids are hungry after a school day, but sports kids are usually starving and require extra fuel! Plan and send easy, healthy snacks for your child and avoid costly stops at a fast-food or convenience store. Consider protein/granola bars, fruit, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cheese, or nuts. Purchase and sample different options until you find one that works. Depending on your climate (or the weight of your child’s sports bag!), you may need to pack it in a small cooler to protect it. You will save money, and they will have a healthy snack.
Bonus: Apps, Coupons, and Points
If sports becomes a big part of your life, the chances are good that you will spend a lot of time on the go—literally. Our son played travel baseball for eight years. By the time he was in high school, we usually spent 4-5 weeks in the summer on the road. We had a minimal budget, so we planned all year for summer ball. Then we used a credit card for gas and groceries to earn hotel points (which covered most of our hotel expenses for the summer). We earned points and rewards on restaurant apps for use on our summer travels. I shopped through reward and coupon sites to earn points, and I redeemed them for gas and restaurant cards. We drank water at every meal, we only booked hotels with free breakfast, and we always ate either lunch or dinner in the room (peanut butter and jelly, deli sandwiches from a local grocery store, a bucket of fried chicken, etc.) Depending on the location/timing/accommodations, I even prepared 1-2 meals at home for us to eat during the trip. https://www.activekids.com/football/articles/youth-sports-participation-by-the-numbers
Heather Stoll has more than twenty years of ministry experience, predominantly in the area of communications and media. She has served churches in South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee, alongside her husband, Jeff. Together, they have two children, and they currently reside in Saint Augustine, FL. You can contact Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.