I remember when Garrett was about 3 and we were contemplating registering him for his first season of soccer. My sister-in-law, who has three boys, said, "Wait as long as you can. You'll be spending your entire weekend at games soon enough." We decided to follow her (excellent) advice, and even a year later, the game his team was playing didn't look much like soccer.
Only now that he is 7, and playing on a good team for the first time, is it starting to resemble real soccer. I should know. I watch a lot of soccer. I take Garrett to practice on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then to games on Saturdays. Oh yeah, and Graham has practice on Wednesdays and games on Saturdays too. And then there is fall baseball for Garrett on Thursdays and Sundays.
Managing these practices and games, along with the shin guards, varying cleats, socks, water bottles, and bags of sporting equipment is practically a full-time job. And let's not forget the all important snack mom responsibilities.
Luckily, Mike helps out with practice coverage when he can, and we tag team the often overlapping games. Plus, he is Garrett's baseball coach, so he handles Thursday practice, and I often sneak in a workout at the gym.
This schedule is nothing new to parents–all around me I hear them talk of juggling kids' activities. The hours after school are packed with commitments, and the weekends are spent shuttling tiny athletes from match to match. There is no end in sight.
But what is the alternative?
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that children get 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, including moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercises. With an ever-dwindling physical education program, and tight lunch and recess schedules, it's unlikely kids are meeting that recommendation at school. The days they spend at sports practice and games might be the only opportunity many kids have to get in some real, valuable activity.
The ACSM also suggests that children spend less than two hours per day on sedentary non-academic activities, such as watching television and playing video games. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids actually average seven hours a day on entertainment media, including television, computers, phones, and other electronic devices.
Let that sink in for a minute: seven hours. That's practically a full-time desk job. No wonder kids are overweight, out of shape, and have mood and behavioral problems.
So while the sports grind can feel overwhelming and over scheduled for a parent of several young kids, it's also a trade-off I'm willing to make at this point. I want my boys to work hard, learn, grow, be a part of a team, and learn cooperation and good sportsmanship. I know exercise is essential to both mental and physical health, and they are already both fairly sports crazy (Garrett especially, but Graham is catching up quickly). And those games and practices ensure at least an hour of vigorous activity, several days a week.
In fact, I'm already sort of dreading the dead of winter, when there are no organized sports to burn off that excess energy, and it's often too cold to bike ride for very long without freezing off necessary parts. Back to swimming lessons at the gym? Nightly Big Foot hunting walks in the open space near our house are also a great option.
If you're a parent, I'd love to hear how you are dealing with (or dealt with, if your kids are grown), the hectic schedule of sports-happy kids. In some ways, I enjoy the forced break soccer practice gives me. But often, I have about one thousand other things I could/should be doing during that time. Still, I love seeing how much fun the boys have. Graham was so excited about his first year of soccer he slept in his uniform for the first week he had it. He'd come down the stairs at night, fresh from a shower, with his shorts, jersey, shinguards and socks on, all ready for bed.