If you feel like sports are taking too much of your and family's time and money, if you are ready to exclaim, "Stop the world, I want to get off," you need to restore some sanity and find a better balance.
It is possible to create balance within your family's everyday life, even with children who participate in sports. But it is up to you as the parent to make certain that your kids don't over-schedule and establish the right priorities. Creating balance in child's life is important because, if you don't, you send your child the message that down time and fun for fun's sake and family time aren't important.
As Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of the book, The Over Scheduled Child, Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, observes, "Today's parents need more than pressured athletics; they need time with each other as husband and wife, and time with their children with no goal in mind beyond the pleasure of spending time together. On walks, shooting hoops, playing Monopoly,whatever! Somehow many of us are insecure and doubt we ourselves have what it takes to raise our kids well. So we entrust them to ‘experts,'coaches and tutors. Yet, what our children really need is us, just quiet, unstructured, unpressured time with us."
Here are my "baker's dozen" of tips for creating balance between sports and family life:
1. Hold a family meeting. Before each sports season, hold a family meeting to look at the master family calendar. Highlight each child's activities in different color, and discuss current commitments and goals for the upcoming season. Don't simply sign your child up for the upcoming season without asking her whether she wants to keep playing and making a joint decision. Weigh the short- and long-term benefits of an activity against the cost to your family in terms of money, time and energy. Remember to consider activities your family may miss because of sports and whether those experiences are so important that you need to find time for them in your family's schedule.
2. Set limits that fit your family. Find the level of sports participation that works for your child and your family. Take your cues from your child and trust your intuition. For some, one sport, one team per season may be right. Some children may thrive on more intense involvement. One mom registered her sons for house leagues because a traveling team's schedule wouldn't fit into her schedule. A friend limited her daughter to one sport a year, but she sent her to skills clinics and camps in the off-season. Work with your children to set limits. Don't impose them on your kids. Make sure that the limits that are set are ones that everyone can agree on. If you stay too deeply involved in every detail of your child's life, it prevents her from learning to structure her own schedule and find personal balance between activities and downtime. Some limits to consider:
- One season (e.g. three months) off out of four
- No select teams before seventh grade
- No specialization in a single sport until high school
- One competitive sport per season until grade six.
- Three one-hour practices before age twelve; for ages 12 to 16, no more than four 1 ½ hour weekly practices.
3. Find a balance between cooperation and competition, between mothers and fathers, between men and women. Find a balance between a mother's instincts to nurture and teach collaboration and cooperation with a father's competitive instincts. If your husband is pushing your child too hard, find ways to get him to ease off.
4. Find a balanced attitude about winning and losing: keep them both in perspective, neither getting angry and upset when child doesn't play well or the team loses nor too excited if child does well or the team wins; never tie special privileges or rewards to winning or withdraw attention, love or affection when child loses. Above all, let your child know that your love for her is unconditional.
5. Find a balanced sports program: Look for leagues and clubs that balance sports, family, school and emphasize having fun. Candidly address the issue of family/sports balance with the other parents and coaches at the preseason meeting.
6. Find a balance between sports: Introduce your child to a sport such as golf, tennis, squash, racquetball, cycling, sailing, windsurfing, rock climbing, jogging, kayaking, rowing, or canoeing that she can enjoy after her competitive career is over. Encourage him or her to keep engaging in sports and activities with you as long as he or she enjoys them, like bike riding, hiking, skating, sailing, running etc.
7. Find a balance between kids. Focusing too heavily on one child's athletic career often causes the other children in the family to feel resentful and may exacerbate sibling rivalry. Every child's interests should receive an equal amount of your attention.
8. Find a balance between sports and academics. Schoolwork should always come first. Remember that there are thirty times more dollars available for financial aid based on academics than for athletics. Consider instituting a no-TV rule from Sunday night through Friday afternoon, or at least limiting TV/video game use to a certain number of hours per day or week.
9. Find a balance between sports and social life. Try to make sure your child's sports don't keep him from making and keeping friends other than other athletes.
10. Find a balance between awake and sleep time. "Parents spend so much time and money optimizing their children's success yet the one thing they are not doing is making sure their kids get enough sleep," says Judith Owens, M.D., past chair of the Pediatric Section for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and co-author of Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep: The All-In-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens. Researchers at Brown University found that teenagers need about nine hours of sleep a night but most are only getting about seven hours a night. They also found that the amount of sleep affected a teen's grades: those who get the most tend to get the best grades; those who get the least tend to get the worst. "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," advises Dr. Owens.
11. Find a balance between family and individual time. Parents in the United States spend less time with their children than those in almost any nation on the planet. Set aside some family time. Research has shown that teenagers who eat dinner with their parents five times per week or more are the least likely to be on drugs, to be depressed, or in trouble with the law, and the most likely to be doing well in school and to have a supportive circle of friends. Set aside one night a week or month as Family Night, when you rent a movie, pop some popcorn, light a fire and just be together. Make it sacred time.
12. Find a balance between active and quiet time. Set aside some time every evening when all the electronic gadgets (cell phones, Play Stations, computers, MP3 players, iPods, and PDA's) are turned off and you and your kids just have some peace and quiet to think and dream or go outside and marvel at the Milky Way in the night sky.
13. Set aside some one-on-one time for you and your spouse. One suggestion: establish a rule that your kids need to be in their rooms by a certain time each night.
Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006) by MomsTeam founder and youth sports expert and consultant, Brooke de Lench.