I'm a sports mom. I have two soccer players and a swimmer. And it's a little amusing to me that life has taken me down this path. I've never been much of a sports fan and certainly not a sports player--I have just enough physical coordination to pack Gatorade in the ice chest, and not a bit more. But it's a different ballgame (no pun intended) to watch my sons play sports--after a lifetime of athletic indifference, I find myself throwing around words such as "off-sides" and "full volley" like a pro.
I'm glad we're on this path. I know there are plenty of parents who aren't fond of competitive sports for their kids, but my husband and I aren't among them. We've seen our kids develop self-confidence as a result of their sports involvement, and the fitness benefits are unmistakable. They've had hands-on experience learning how to be a team member, how to push themselves and how to lose (and win) graciously. It's been good.
With spring soccer season starting to gear up (and by the way, how is that already possible?), these issues have been on my mind lately. I've learned a few things in my years as a sports mom, some of which I wish someone would've told me at the outset.
1. Be involved. When you or your spouse are the coach, you generally have much more say in vitally important issues, such as making sure practice times don't conflict with Lost. Best of all, you can set a tone for the entire team, a tone of positive attitudes and encouraging affirmation. It's an excellent way to invest in a kid's life. If coaching isn't a viable option for you, do remember to...
2. ...Choose your coach carefully. The coach's attitudes and methods set the tone for the entire season. If you detect a win-at-all-costs attitude, this should be a red flag. Steer your family toward coaches who are as interested in what kind of people these kids are, not just what kind of athletes they are.
3. Avoid the drama. As kids get older, and things get more competitive, a certain element of drama and politics can sometimes enter the sports parent scene. My best advice? Lay low. Smiling and nodding politely goes a long way to diffuse drama (this is when being raised a Southern girl comes in handy), and when you continually deflect drama, you'll usually find that less of it will come your way.
4. Remember why you're doing this. A wise parent will see competitive sports as a chance to build a kid's confidence and teach him or her some important life lessons. It is rarely--I hate to break it to you--the springboard to a fabulous athletic career. I think a lot of the bad wrap that comes with kids' sports could be avoided if parents involved their kids for the enjoyment of it, not because Junior is the next Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Michael Phelps or Kristy Yamaguchi. Do it for the right reasons, and along those same lines...
5. ...It's okay to take a break. Kids get burn-out, too. If you sense they're feeling too much pressure, there's nothing wrong with taking a breather. An injury last fall forced my middle son to sit out of the winter indoor soccer season, and it has been a healthy break. He remembered why he loves soccer, and he's more energized than ever to hit it in the spring.
So, all of those tips are pretty theoretical, but there are some more practical things I've learned, too:
1. Bags, bags, bags. In our house, every sport and every kid has its own backback or duffel bag. That bag is the permanent repository of all the necessary equipment, which cuts down on mad dashes out the door on game day. When I launder the soccer uniform, I put it in a large Ziploc bag (to avoid Gatorade spillage, trust me on this one!) and put it directly back in the soccer bag. Everything stays together!
2. The dishwasher is your friend. A lot of smelly sports equipment can be sanitized in the dishwasher. I regularly run swim goggles and shin guards through the top rack, but there are probably more uses you could find. Check manufacturers instructions (and proceed at your own risk), but I'm a big fan of disinfecting that smelly gear however I can.
3. Make the kids responsible! In this family, a big part of sports involvement is being responsible for your own stuff. If a kid is old enough to play sports, he's old enough to help gather the gear, get the water bottle in the dishwasher and fold the socks. This takes a load off mom, and, even better, it gives kids a chance to be responsible.
There are bound to be plenty of sports moms reading this, and I'd love to hear your best tips too!
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