I look forward to summer because the days are longer, so I have more time with my family after work before bedtime. Ideally, I swim in the pool and hang out on the deck or porch while kids play on the playset, ride bikes, or play ball together.
Our oldest son has been on travel baseball teams for the past two summers. That meant six nights a week, we were shuttling him to baseball practice or a game which impacted our family. Dinner could be eaten at 4:30 p.m. or 8 p.m., typically grab-and-go and not sitting together to eat. We also used sitters often for games so that we could watch the game and not have to worry about “entertaining” the younger kids who were “bored” and climbing a rusty piece of whatever they found instead of sitting in the comfy chairs with snacks we’d provide.
We had less quality time together as a family due to our travel sports schedule.
This summer was our first club lacrosse team experience, and there seems to be a better balance for our family, which is a nice change. Practices are two nights a week, games are only on the weekends (albeit 6 a.m. – 3 p.m. each time), and there are fewer commitments overall.
As with everything, there are downsides. Playing on a club team is prohibitive for some families and an investment for any family. Considering the number of playing opportunities (practices and games), the cost seems astronomical; however, in speaking with parents on different teams at tournaments, paying $1500-3500 for six weeks of club lacrosse is the norm.
We were at a tournament last weekend, and I knew of at least five other tournaments friends were attending within the tri-state area (not including travel tournaments requiring overnight stays). This led me to reflect on the purpose of playing on one of these teams.
Youth sports have changed significantly from when I played. I have felt pressure to have my kids in competitive sports much earlier than I participated in them as a child to “give them a chance.” A chance at what? To learn skills? To have fun? To develop as a player in hopes of playing in high school if they choose?
To have a shot at playing in college if they choose? On average, only 2% of high school athletes have a chance to play Division 1 sports at the college level. After much reflection, I’ve determined that I want my kids to experience sports and be part of a team for the following reasons.
1. Teamwork & Collaboration
I want my kids to learn to be part of a team, take on a role, and work toward a common goal.
2. Discipline & Time Management
I want my kids to learn what a commitment is and how to manage multiple responsibilities in life at once. Especially with executive functioning deficits, we must work on developing these skills early and often.
3. Resilience & Perseverance
As much as I preach a growth mindset, competition reinforces this principle. You will lose. You will not always get a trophy. You will come in second. You will come in last. How will you respond? To persist in the face of adversity is an essential life skill that being part of a team will teach them.
4. Physical Fitness & Health Awareness
My kids are not genetically blessed. They have likely drawn the short straw for metabolism, impulse control, and bone structure. I struggled with weight as a child (and my whole life), and the game changer for me (no pun intended) was joining the swim team and meeting with a dietitian. I want my children to make the connection between what they put in their bodies and what their bodies can do. Exercise is also the best natural source of dopamine, which they need to learn and utilize to be successful!
5. Goal Setting & Achievement
Teams often set goals to work toward collectively. Whether that’s “working as a team” or a specific skill for the sport (weak hand passing in lacrosse, for example), they will learn to set realistic goals and plan to achieve them.
6. Sportsmanship & Respect
This is the most essential and missing skill in our youth (and adults). Whether my kids win or lose, they must regulate their emotions gracefully. Post Covid we are seeing a delay in children’s emotional regulation skills, which reinforces the need for this to be reinforced through sports. Handling success with humility and defeat with grace will teach them skills they will need for the rest of their lives.
7. Leadership & Communication
Communication, decision-making, and leadership skills are life skills needed for success. Youth sports are a natural venue in which to develop these skills. One of my son’s favorite coaches starts the season by stating that he’s looking for a practice captain each practice. If athletes demonstrate positivity, encouragement, resilience, and a “team” approach, they can be named captain for the next practice. This removes the show-boating, “me first” mentality and creates a team dynamic. Priceless.
8. Social Skills & Networking
Joining a sports team introduces kids to others their age from diverse backgrounds with a shared interest. This requires them to introduce themselves, learn about their teammates, find commonalities, learn about differences, and live the truth that they can get along with anyone if they first understand their experience.