In my last blog I wrote about how I incorporated "byes" as a family day for members of my soccer team. I always made it my policy that everyone on my team played three-quarters of the games and I alternated the players that played the entire game. I encouraged kids to take "byes" as a family day, so that when I had a fuller roster we could pull off the ¾ policy.
Since I posted my blog I have received numerous emails asking me to elaborate. Some found the idea intriguing; others were skeptical that it could work. The majority were anxious for their leagues to implement such a policy. Six readers asked, "What would you suggest would be a great way to spend the day so my son doesn't feel left out?"
Basically, if there are too many kids on the roster for each to play three-quarters of every game, my suggestion is to mandate that each player take a designated day off. In some cases, two players might be asked to take a day off. The players should be given the option to attend the game but with the understanding that this is his/her day for rest or family fun. Instead of playing twelve (or however many) games a season, each child would play one less game. The intent is for the child to spend the day with his family to allow every child ¾ playing time.
When I was coaching, I always explained the "de Lench plan" (as it became known) at the pre-season meeting. I circulated a form for each family to fill out asking for their first, second, and third choice for the bye day. Interestingly, I never had a problem or a family protesting. The most difficult assignment was for a child to take the first or last game off. Most seasons I had volunteers. When there was an issue I simply sweetened the deal for the player who volunteered by giving him the option to pick the position he wanted to play at his first game or something else that was of interest. Families actually loved knowing when they had a Saturday or Sunday to spend travelling, attend a wedding or whatever without having their child penalized.
Family day ideas
So, back to the questions from six parents looking for new family day ideas.
One of my favorite things to do on our family bye days was to go for a canoe trip complete with fishing poles and a picnic. Turns out I'm not alone in loving fishing: fresh water fishing ranks number eight in the March 2009 Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association list of most popular sports and fitness activities.
I always suggest fishing and canoeing or kayaking because they are activities that put families into a natural peaceful yet exciting setting. Many times we would come face to face with a turtle, fish or water fowl.
As a youngster I spent endless hours fishing with my best friend, Lisa, and her father, "Mr. G". Mr. G was one of those wonderfully patient dads who made sure that we girls (or "fellas" as he always called the two of us; even on my wedding day, with Lisa as my maid of honor, he said, "Don't you fellas look beautiful!") were given the opportunity to enjoy activities as children that we could carry into our adult lives (because we grew up in the pre-Title IX era, we were pretty much excluded from team sports). Mr. G spent hours upon hours swinging golf clubs, flying kites, swimming, rowing, throwing a Frisbee and, most of all, fishing with us.
Fishing was his favorite activity. A top fly fisherman with an extensive collection of hand-made flies which he had tied over the years, he spent as much of his leisure time as he could with a fly rod in his hand. For many years, from the time we were pre-schoolers until the time we entered adolescence, Mr. G would reserve Saturday mornings for fishing with Lisa and me. As far back as I remember he would take us digging for worms, keep us busy tying flies, hiking around the local lake, and sitting with our legs dangling off our town's dock in the harbor on the bay, a fishing pole in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. Mr G was the one who taught me at age seven how to row a dingy out into the bay where the striped bass were running.
A bobber from heaven
Last week, Lisa called me to plan our next get-together. She wanted to go kayaking on the Concord River, which flows right past my back yard. Our conversation turned to her dad, who passed away in September 2001, right after 9/11. Fittingly, he had suffered a fatal heart attack while standing knee deep in waders fly fishing in a river in Maine. He was 79. As we reminisced I told her, no doubt for the umpteenth time, how "Every time I see a bobber floating in the river when I am out kayaking, I think of your dad." I don't see more than 2 or 3 bobbers a year, but when I do I know Mr. G. is smiling down on me from heaven.
Later that day, I took my afternoon walk around the reservoir near my office. Toward the end of my walk I happened to look into the water. There was a bobber peacefully floating close to the shoreline. Ignoring the "no trespassing" signs, I took off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and waded into the water to untangle the fishing line and retrieve the bobber. I brought my new prize back to my office, snapped a picture with my iphone and sent it off to Lisa.
Spending time fishing with my best friend's dad was the perfect way to forget the lonely feeling I had as a girl growing up in the 1950's and 1960's of being excluded from the team sports that were open to Lisa's older brother and boys our age. All those Saturdays are forever indelibly etched in my mind.
It's no wonder, then, that my vote was always to spend the "family bye" day off from my sons' sports on the river, bay or pond.