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Look Before Leaping

What you should know before the Sports Season Begins 

When my son reached the ripe old age of five, I signed him up for peewee baseball. I thought he would play a few simple ball games, have a really great time and that would be that. Silly me.

As it turned out, I was the rookie. I didn’t realize the commitment in time, money and emotion my son’s involvement in peewee ball would require of me. Looking back, I wish there had been some sort of primer or textbook that would have smoothed the way. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this article. I hope that after reading it, you’ll feel better ready to plunge fearlessly into the pool of children’s sports. The rewards, as you’ll find out, are certainly worth it! Whether the team sport is baseball, soccer, football, tennis, basketball, track or swimming, there are a few things you really ought to know before the sports season begins.

Availability: Investigating sports options beforehand will assure you of a happier and more satisfying team and home life during the season. To begin, find out what types of sports are available for children in your area. Request a catalog from your city’s leisure services or parks and recreation department; check with your local school district; or for ideas, look for private sports organizations listed in the telephone book. Be sure to inquire about age, size or experience recommendations and limitations. Check out when the season begins (including practices) and when it ends (including all final games). Here’s where you have to consider your work and family commitments and obligations, school calendar, and scheduled or possible vacations.

Find out when and where to sign up for the chosen sport far in advance because sign-ups can occur months before opening day. For example, Peewee League baseball sign-ups can take place in December, practice can start in February and official games can finally begin in April. Team rosters often fill quickly and if you are too late, your child will be unable to play. (Try explaining that situation to a kid ready and eager to join the team!)

Cost: To prepare financially, find out what the upfront fee includes. Does it pay for the shirt, pants, socks, cleats or special shoes, and a hat or helmet? What about a team jacket, team and individual pictures; special equipment like a baseball glove or bat, end-of-the-game team treats, picnics, and end-of-the-season trophies? Things can get expensive if there are lots of extras.

Siblings and Buddies: If eligible siblings agree and dispositions allow, siblings can often play on the same team. Doing so saves your family from the confusion of overlapping game times and the agony of driving all over town(s) to different game locations. Also, it might be more fun for a shy child to sign up with a friend —sometimes referred to as ‘signing up with a buddy.’

Welcome to the Team: You’ve done it. Hooray! Your child has joined the team and, make no mistake, so have you. You and your child are in this together. On your team player’s ‘up days,’ you will applaud and cheer. On ‘down days,’ you will bolster your player with encouraging words and chocolate milk. But that’s not all—both of you will acquire a plethora of responsibilities and commitments, including:

Time: Team sports consume a great deal of time. Before the season starts, an average week might consist of two or three one-hour practices. After the season starts, in addition to the practices, the teams might play two games a week that are two or more hours long.

Don’t assume that children’s sports are similar to adult recreational sports. Generally, adult baseball begins with a couple of practices before the season begins and then a single one-hour game per week. But it is very different with children, and rightly so. At the beginning of the season, some kids may have no idea what they are doing or why. They are learning how to play.

For example, my son played on a peewee baseball team that consisted of five to eight-year-old girls and boys. The team had two practices per week for one entire month before the season began.

Even so, at the first game one of the sturdiest little guys stepped up to bat, smacked the ball on his first try and zinged it deep into right field. The crowd cheered in amazement as the boy took off running. Unfortunately, he ran straight for the pitcher’s mound. The coaches began to wave wildly and the boy knew he needed to go somewhere else, so he headed back to home base. The coaches continued to wave wildly and the crowd continued to cheer. This time he headed for first base and made it. In other words, all those practices are necessary.

Attendance: Once the season begins, it’s crucial that players attend the games; absences may force team forfeiture. If your player is unable to make the game, let the coach know as soon as possible. Plan to attend games in all kinds of weather. Prepare yourself for the idea and the reality of your child playing in rain, wind and bad weather—league organizers balk at canceling games because of rescheduling costs and efforts. If a game is canceled because of bad weather, you should be aware that it will extend the season.

Younger Non-Participating Siblings: Will a younger sibling make it through a two-hour game? Bring snacks, juice, crayons and paper, and toys (even a babysitter?) so you can watch the game. Of course Plan A is that you, your family and your player arrive and depart together. However, be sure to have a Plan B in place just in case a younger sibling absolutely cannot make it to the end of the game. Network with other parents who have younger siblings for possible ride sharing. Prepare your player for the possibility of your early departure because of an over-tired brother or sister.

Dinner, Homework, Bedtime: You need to know that kids play those important practices and games not just on Saturday, but also Monday through Friday. Often they occur right at dinnertime, and if not at dinnertime, then during dinner prep time. (Make dinner ahead of time for game nights: spaghetti, ravioli, macaroni and cheese. Also, burritos, tacos and hamburgers are quick meals. Another option is to bring a picnic lunch/dinner to the game, or eat hot dogs from the snack shack. Don’t forget to do homework before the game, and remember to prepare the kids for a shortened bedtime ritual. In fact, you may want to make getting homework done before the game a hard-and-fast requirement for participation on the team.

Volunteers: Certain individuals are needed to coach, assist the coach, organize team snacks, coordinate picnics, arrange team picture dates and times, raise funds, work the snack shack, make signs, keep score and officiate games. One of those individuals probably will be you. More than likely you will be asked to volunteer. Think about what you can and might like to do in advance. Keep in mind that team parents play a large role in the making of a successful team.

The Unknowns: Coaches: If you are lucky, your child’s coach will be nurturing, supportive and encouraging, and ultimately enrich your child’s life. On the other hand, maybe not. There is always the possibility that this will be your child’s first experience with an adult inexperienced or inept at managing a group of children. Keep the communication line open with your child and keep your ears open as well. Step in and help the coach if you see a need.

Team Members: The same holds true with teammates. While lifelong friendships may develop from this valuable experience, it can also turn out that some team members may not be exactly deft at socializing just yet. This is an opportunity for you to teach your child how to be patient and polite even in the face of bad behavior.

Team Parents: Prepare yourself to observe parents who are overly enthusiastic or extremely serious about the game. Be ready to see such parents go nose-to-nose with the umpires. Shrug it off and have a good time anyway. GAINS, ATTRIBUTES AND REWARDS: The joys and benefits of team sports are worthwhile and character building. Pay close attention and you will notice that the game is more than just a game.

Builds Self Esteem and Promotes Sportsmanship: The awe inspiring ‘good catch’ and ‘good play’ evoke parental pride and amazement, and makes both kid and parent beam from ear to ear and hop from foot to foot. Additionally, a team sport provides the perfect opportunity to learn the fine art of good sportsmanship, fair play and to win and lose with grace. Cultivates Critical Thinking Skills: It’s decision time. One base or two? Should the player go for that soccer goal or would another team member have a better chance? Analyzing situations and making decisions are basics of any sport. The more children practice and play, the better skilled they become at critical thinking.

Expands Socialization Skills: Team involvement encourages cooperation and communication among coaches and players. Kids learn that by working together, they can help the team. This team camaraderie creates a sense of belonging and forms bonds through shared interests and common goals. Another added bonus is that boys and girls learn to play together in a more structured environment, and learn to appreciate each other based on abilities, qualities and skills, rather than gender. Exposure and Participation: Playing a team sport provides a child with the chance to better evaluate his sports likes and dislikes based on direct experience rather than hearsay. Game participation is a hands-on type of learning experience and generates a better understanding of the game that makes it more fun and interesting.

All Things Considered: What if team sports don’t work out for you and your child? Don’t panic. Instead, consider an individual sport such as karate, ballet, rock climbing, bike riding, in-line skating, and a host of others. In any event, now that you know a few specifics beforehand, let the games begin and enjoy the short-lived moments of parent/player rookiehood.

Janice is a freelance writer.

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