Having a child playing sports, much less two or three playing on multiple teams in the same sports season, can be challenge even for the most organized mom.
Here are twenty time and money saving tips for sports parents to help you stay organized during the helter skelter of a youth sports season:
Planning and Organizing
- Plan Ahead
- Registration. Registration for youth sports programs usually takes place several months before the beginning of the season, so you need to be on the lookout for registration information in the mail (e-mail and snail mail), at school, in the newspaper, on line, from your town's recreation or parks department, or from youth sports organizations or leagues, and stay on top of the deadlines. When you send in the registration form, include a stamped, self-addressed post-card that can be sent back to you so you know the form was received. If you register on line or via e-mail, do not assume that your child has been accepted into the program until you receive an e-mail confirmation. Print the form out and keep it handy for the first practice.
- Health forms. Completing health or preparticipation physical evaluation (PPE) forms that may be required in order for your child to play sports will usually necessitate a visit to your child's pediatrician. Since most pediatricians are booked for well-visits months in advance, don't wait until the last minute to try to schedule an appointment; you might be out of luck.
- Buying equipment. Shopping for the right equipment also should be done well in advance of the start of the season. Make sure you know what gear is approved for that sport (for instance, Little League rules prohibit a fielder's glove from being more than 12 inches long or 7 ¾ inches wide; bats can't be more than 2 ¼ inches in diameter and 33 inches long). If you wait until the last minute, the store may be sold out of what your child needs, forcing you to waste a lot of time running from store to store trying to find the right equipment.
- Use the power of the Internet. You can use the Internet to do such things as research and buy sports equipment, get directions to away games and tournaments, confirm schedules, book hotels and make airplane reservations. If the team on which your child plays has a website, be sure that you have it bookmarked so you don't have to waste time trying to find the URL via Google or another search engine.
- Use e-mail.Most youth sports organizations now use e-mail to keep parents informed of practice schedules, game times, sign-up dates, forms due, tournament dates, directions to games etc. (be sure to print out directions no later than the night before an away game; you don't want to leave it to the last minute or plug the address into your calendar so you can use it to get directions from a smartphone app like Google Maps). E-mail is also a great way to communicate with other parents and the coach.
- Use three-ring binders.Put information about each child's activities into a three-ring binder, with a section for each child, and keep it updated with schedules for sports, music lessons, Scouts, notices about school activities, team rosters, and phone numbers etc.
- Keep a good calendar.
- Data entry. Enter every practice, game and meeting, both start time and finish time (allocate much more time than you think it will take), on to whatever kind of calendar/planner works best for your family (paper calendar/whiteboard, wall planner with moveable magnets etc.). Keep it in a place in the house where everyone can see it. Use different color pens for each member of the family. Assign someone (it will usually end up being you) to be the keeper of the master schedule, the one who checks with family members periodically (preferably every day) to see if events need to be added or deleted.
- Coordinating calendars. If you use a smart-phone, be sure to enter the events into it as well, and synchronize it with your computerized calendar, both at home and work. (Using the reminder feature on a smartphone and in most computer calendars, like Microsoft Outlook®, is a great way to avoid being late to pick up your son after practice or get him to the game or practice on time). Check with your local recreation and parks department to see if a master calendar of events exists. If not, offer to help create one to reduce scheduling overlap, and give you and your children time to get to the next event. Perhaps you can team up with other parents to sell your calendar as a fundraiser. Be sure to put your own work schedules on the calendar so everyone in the family can see how their activities fit - or don't fit - in. Block off chunks of time where nothing is scheduled; just because the time is shown as free, doesn't mean it needs to be filled up with an activity: there should be plenty of free time. If there isn't, you are over scheduling.
- Use cell phones. With all the "family plans" offered by cell phone companies, equipping your kids with cell phones is a must for busy families on the go. Some cell phone companies are now offering a plan where you can get cell phones for your younger children with up to four pre-programmed numbers and a button to push in case of emergencies. If your child can get rides back from games and practices and calls to let you know, a lot of time (and gas) can be saved.
- Hold a weekly family planning meeting.Once a week, hold a family meeting to review what happened - good and bad - in the week just ended; and what is coming up in the week ahead. That way everyone in the family knows what everyone else is up to, priorities canbe set, and scheduling conflicts identified (it is amazing how many families get stressed out because they ignore the basic fact that we cannot be in two places at the same time!). If you can't find time to schedule a meeting at home, hold one whenever the entire family is together, such as in restaurant over coffee, cookies and cocoa.
- Teach your kids to stay organized and manage their own schedule.As your kids get older, they can shoulder more and more of the responsibility of keeping track of their own calendar and reminding you when you need to drive them to practice or to a game.
- Keep track of everything
- Use identification tags. Put a name-tag or write your child's first name in permanent marker on everything (shoes, balls, bags, water bottles etc.) along with a phone number. Better yet, as soon as your child is old enough, have him write his name on his equipment and uniform (a child who writes his name or initials on his uniform and equipment is more likely to make sure they don't get lost). Her name should also be on her sports bag to make it easy to identify in a sea of bags. I recall the time one of my players had a severe asthmatic attack on the field and needed an inhaler. I turned to the row of 18 identical blue and white bags all in a row. It took five extra minutes for parents to rifle through all of the bags to find the one which contained his inhaler.
- Keep everything in its place. Give your child a chance to shoulder some or all of the responsibility for making sure that her equipment and uniform are where they should be. Have your child keep all of his or her equipment together in the same place, preferably in a sports bag, which is easy to fill, store and grab. Of course, you, too, need to keep everything where you can find it when you need it (like car keys, directions, wallet/purse, cell phone, sunglasses, etc);
- Get help with the laundry. Make it your child's job to put her dirty uniform in the laundry room or the hamper. You shouldn't have to go rummaging around in his room to find the uniform under a sea of dirty clothes (teenagers really hate you going into theirroom when they aren't there; come to think of it, they don't like you coming in even when they are there). To avoid the hassle of trying to get your child's uniform washed and dried in time for the next practice or game, it may be worth the extra money to buy an extra uniform. Remember that the laundry isn't done until the uniform, jockstrap/sportsbra and socks are back in the drawer, closet or sports bag where your son or daughter can find them.
- Extra, extra, extra.Keep a large plastic box in the trunk of your car or mini-van containing the following:
- Extra clothes. Always bring along extra clothing for your child to change into after playing in muddy or rainy conditions. (The last thing you need is a sick child who has to stay home from school). Be sure to replace any item you child uses so he always has a full set of dry, clean clothes in the car to change into.
- Extra equipment (baseball, soccer ball, glove, tennis balls, etc.)
- Extra socks
- Mini first-aid kit
- Sports Mom Essentials:
- Portable lawn/beach chair: Look for one that is a combination chair/backpack with shoulder straps. They allow you to keep your hands free to carry other stuff to the field (like a cooler), and have pockets to store other essentials.
- Cell phone. Be sure the battery is charged. A charger for the car is a good idea.
- Rain gear
- Laminated emergency first-aid cards
- Essential information:
- Game/practice schedule, directions
- Cell phone numbers for the coach, other parents
- Smartphone map app: If you have a smartphone, you can use an app (we like Google Maps) to get directions to the field. If not, make sure you have good directions for each venue and a detailed map of the area where you live.
- Keep coolers in the car. Keep two coolersin car: one big, one small. The large one (with wheels) can double as an extra seat; keep ice packs in ziplock bags or buy a supply of chemical ice packs.
- Do an equipment "sweep" after games.Do a sweep of the area around the bench or dugout for your son's or daughter's equipment before leaving a practice or game.
- Join a carpool.Other parents are running in the same direction as you, so offer to pick up their kid for practice if they'll bring yours home afterwards.
- Call for backup. When you can't get to a game, ask family andfriends to fill in for you.
- Multi-task.It is amazing how much time you will end up spending at your child's games and practices (between 6 and 16 hours perweek, according to one study), especially away games and tournaments, doing not much but sitting or standing around, usually talking with other parents who also have nothing to do. Fill the time by getting other things done.
Keep a list of small tasks you can accomplish during the downtime, such as:
- paying bills
- cleaning your car
- taking a walk,
- even doing work (consider taking a portable office with you, including a small file box, perhaps even your laptop or tablet with Wi-Fi).
On cool days, our family dog, Caleb, who was an amazing soccer goalie, always came along to take a walk or play with the other team mascots.
- Pre-cooked meals.On busy days, put supper in a crock pot inthe morning before work; or keep quick meals in the freezer; don't feel guilty if supper is frozen pizza or scrambled eggs; kids love occasional sub-standard meals. For more easy-to-make dinners, click here.
- Packing. Don't wait until the last minute to pack to go awayfor an overnight trip to a tournament. Work from a packing list. Thisway you avoid over-packing because you don't know what to take or forgetting something important and have to waste time and money replacing it in an unfamiliar town.
- Chaperones.Make sure that your child's team follows the"two adult rule" on road trips.