Sunday January 24 2021
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Youth Sports and the Toll on Family Life

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Twelve-year-old Samantha plays soccer almost year round. That means her middle-school season is followed by indoor games and training in the winter, then local recreational leagues in the spring. In the summer, she attends a couple of camps as well.

Her sister Danielle plays basketball with a similar level of commitment.

While Samantha enjoys her sport, she also enjoys a “sit-down” dinner at home every once in a while – something other than the burgers or pizza that seem to shape a large portion of her family’s nightly menu when bouncing between basketball and soccer games and practices.

Finding time for those meals can be difficult. They’re often a casualty of the family’s commitment to youth sports.

Parents and participants regularly tout the many positives of youth sports, just some of which include skill development, improved physical fitness and an appreciation of team play and loyalty. From the youngest participants in recreational leagues to older youths on travel teams, sports also provide the opportunity to learn about balancing schedules, completing a commitment and even managing time as the participants work to attend practices and also do things such as finish their homework.

Still, youth sports—whether at an introductory or highly competitive level—inevitably take some sort of toll on a family’s life.

For some families, it’s simply a matter of menu selection and making time for a full-fledged, sit-down meal once a week or whenever possible. For her family, that happens maybe two times a week, depending on the season.

“It’s just nice to eat together,” Samantha says. She admits she’s not necessarily interested in sharing stories from the day with her parents while at the table, though. She just prefers meat, maybe mashed potatoes, corn and applesauce over another fast-food burger. “Pizza gets old after a while.”

For other families highly involved in youth sports, time management, or simply finding available time not devoted to sports, becomes the bigger issue.

Some families can find part of the solution in the form of a calendar. A calendar on the refrigerator, color-coded for each family member and filled with events and notes for all the children—as well as family events such as choir or church events—can make a big difference.

“Having the structure helps. It’s just a calendar, but it also helps the kids to see what’s going on and keep things on track,” says Cathy, a mother of three. “They’ve become accustomed to checking the calendar. Sometimes we have a lot going on and it’s good to have it all organized in one place. We make sure to put a priority on family things that are not sports, too.”

For many families, such organizational methods have become a necessity.

While critics might cite that as “overscheduling” and count it as a clear toll on family life, the families who complete those busy schedules see learning time-management skills and responsibility as a benefit of a youth sports. They believe a busy schedule ranks as a positive, not a drawback or negative.

“Our oldest daughter had better grades during her middle-school basketball season than she did after the season ended,” Samantha’s mother says. “During the season she just managed her time better. When she did not have practices or did not have to get things done after a game, she was not as focused. Learning responsibility is part of the process, too.”

Most experts recommend considering a child’s individual needs before committing to youth sports activities. Setting limits on how much time a family devotes to youth sports and, and making room on the calendar for non-sports activities, such as planning vacations, allows a family to establish and maintain MARA Baseballpriorities.

Even at a sport’s smallest level, the challenges remain. Dealing with the pros, cons and possible tolls of youth sports is a fact of life for families with kids playing sports.

Finding a balance may not be easy, but it can be done and it inevitably enhances the experience for all those involved.

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