Spring is a time of renewal, and after a year-long hiatus, most spring sports are back in action and welcoming a host of happy, energetic participants. But what does this restart mean for the parents and athletes who were forced to step back from an overscheduled lifestyle last year?
How are families dealing with spring sports and trying to move toward normal activities?
For some families, the lockdown created a welcome opportunity to re-evaluate their lifestyle. Many pondered how a relentless schedule packed with sports and other activities affected their children and if – or how – they should continue to participate.
Others found the lockdown forced them to innovate and take sports training into their own hands instead of waiting for a club, organization, or school team to restart practices and games. Unfortunately, the lockdown also created a negative atmosphere for many families. Many players were frustrated by interrupted seasons, lack of clear direction and leadership, and stringent requirements when they did participate. After weeks and months of training with sometimes onerous restrictions, players became bored or unenthused with the game.
Now is a tough time for families, both emotionally and physically.
We interviewed a few sporting families and found some big differences in how they handle sports. In our first interview, Sara’s* two sons participated in soccer and wrestling when sports stopped last spring. After attending two 2-hour practices and one game each week, they now had only online zoom training with no actual competition.
The boys found the drastic change discouraging. They didn’t want to “practice” at home with no outlet. They wanted to be working out with their teams and practicing toward the outcome of winning a real, live game. The love of soccer drained from their hearts. When practices started up again in early summer, their lackluster response was enough for Sara and her husband to pull them from the sport.
Other soccer team members’ families didn’t wait for a restart. They called around to see about joining other clubs and finding opportunities to compete in games and tournaments. The players continued to attend camps and soccer drill days at private facilities. These families found a way to keep the love of sports alive for their boys.
These two extremes reveal the spectrum of how parents and athletes reacted to a change in their routine.
But who is happier? Sara’s family, like some others, found the lockdown allowed them to reprioritize their lifestyle. Those families who still put sports on a pedestal kept moving forward. Families who chose to put family time, prayer time, and faith back into their lives, may not have athletes ready for the Olympics but found instead they had created a deeper connection with God and each other.
Like Joe’s*, some sporting families managed to keep an even keel through the whole pandemic mess. They kept their faith strong and were ready to welcome sports – and the many obligations – back into their lives. Participating in sports helped their athletes keep their talents strong, and they enjoyed both the camaraderie and the competition.
Are you jumping back into spring sports?
Many families welcomed spring sports back into their lives. While the environment looked different – mask requirements, minimal fan attendance, fewer opponents, and fewer games – parents and athletes thrived on the activities.
How can families organize time commitments?
There are no two ways about it: sporting families need to be organized. Katie’s* family had a calendar that listed and color-coded sporting events. This helped everyone understand who had to be where and at what time. The family calendar also helped to coordinate dinner times, which they held firm even if it meant dinner was an hour later some evenings.
Eight ways to coordinate sports and family time
1. Have a plan and build in room to say no: Hold a family meeting to get input on how busy and active your family wants to be:
First – Set priorities. Some families say no sports on Sunday due to church and family activities. Others say sports on Sunday are fine if we incorporate team prayer.
Second – Ask each child about the level of sports they want to participate in – and make sure the child understands the different commitments for recreational, extracurricular, club, and traveling teams. Take your cues from your children. After all, if it’s a hassle to participate, it’s not worth the family strife.
Third– Make sure to set limits that are agreeable to everyone. This will involve planning individual schedules and explaining the coordination required to handle home, school, family, and sporting activities.
Fourth– Consider the short and long-term benefits and costs of participating in a sport in terms of time, family and peer relationships, individual growth, and money.
Sporting commitments should work for the family as a whole as you put this plan into place.
2. Set aside family time: Schedule your family time just as you would for work, school and sports. Be intentional about spending time together to have fun, be supportive and learn more about each child. You can have game night, movie night, cook together, go on walks and hikes, or come up with any activity your children like to do. Make it a sacred time. God wants families to be strong, and scheduled time together is a great way to grow those bonds.
3. Look for balanced sports programs: Look for sporting teams that encourage an appropriate balance between sports and family. The best programs offer a combined emphasis on having fun and winning. Too much of one or the other can have negative consequences on children and families. You also want to balance the needs of each child’s activities with those of their siblings. If you focus on one high-performing child at the others’ expense, you can create resentment and rivalries. This does not make for an enjoyable home life. Help everyone balance their activities and seek a balance between being supportive of each other and participating.
4. Find a balance among various sports: Encourage your children to try different sports. If they find they love one over another, encourage that, but keep it in perspective. If they have no ambition to pursue a sport to a professional level, think about lifetime sports. Introduce golf, tennis, cycling, squash, racquetball, sailing, windsurfing, hiking, rock climbing, jogging, bowling, kayaking, rowing, or canoeing, all sports they can enjoy through all stages of life. When they learn and enjoy a variety of sports, children will develop a full range of motor skills, which ultimately helps them become better at a sport in which they specialize later. Different activities will also help them avoid overuse injuries.
5. Balance school and sports: Schoolwork should always come first. Some families are hoping their children will earn a sports scholarship for college. Sports may help get them through school, but there are also scholarships for academics. Academics will help your children develop the necessary skills to be a business owner, professional, or entrepreneur.
6. Balance family time, sports, and social life: If your child is on a club or traveling team, he or she may isolate themselves from friends outside of sports. Children need to learn how to balance being a part of a team but also the larger community. Helping your children develop a balanced identity as a family member, team member, and non-sporting friend will prepare them to lead a happier and balanced life when sports end.
7. Prioritize sleep: Judith Owens, M.D., past chair of the Pediatric Section for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and co-author of taking Charge of Your Child’s Sleep: The All-In-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens says, “The greatest challenge for parents is the balance between homework, sports, music, and sleep – don’t over program your kids so that they give up their much-needed sleep.” As a parent, you’ve probably seen outbursts of anger when you’ve asked your child to get ready for practice or a long day of competition. This outburst may not be because the child is angry at you; it may be because he or she simply needs more sleep. Be sure to help your child make sleep an essential part of their routine.
8. Provide free time: It’s just not sustainable to schedule every non-school minute of your child’s day into family or sports time. Children also need to understand how to have fun, unwind and relax on their terms. This means you’ll need to give them time on their own, as you probably did when they were toddlers. They used this time to play. When you have older children, the term “play” is out of favor. Whatever it’s called, your children need time to think and be creative, interact with society, and pursue independent activities.
Sports can be a healthy part of children’s lives when framed in a balanced perspective. It helps decide how active everyone should be, as spring sports commitments take time away from family and faith time. When you put together a plan, everyone can respect the family boundaries and attitude toward sports.
*Names have been changed to respect our interviewees.
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