“Toto we aren’t in Kansas anymore,” comes to mind as our family, and most likely yours as well enters unchartered waters with divisional or league promotions for our youth athletes. What to expect, know or how to prepare for the upcoming changes and season can become a daunting task for many sports parents. These changes can birth difficult emotions for youth sports parents and athletes alike. Sportlo is here to help you set up for a successful season and promotion.
Back to the usual craziness
Back-to-school also means preparing to head back to athletic fields for many families. Whether your little athlete is playing league, club or school sports, Sportlo spoke with coaches and seasoned sports parents about how to prepare for another successful youth sports season.
For many young athletes, the fall sports season usually means moving up a division or league. Some kids are moving from elementary to junior high sports or junior high to high school sports. Others are transitioning from minors to majors leagues. Regardless of how your athlete is progressing, it can be an emotional and stressful time for them.
For example, our oldest is moving up from rookies to minor’s baseball this fall and he is expressing feelings of inadequacy. Although he is moving up with many former teammates in the same talent bracket, he will no longer be one of the better-skilled ballers on the field. He will soon be playing with teammates who have at least a season or two years of experience in the minor’s league. It’s our job as a sports parent to prepare our athletes in coping with these feelings and transitions. Truth is many young athletes become crippled by fears of embarrassment and the pressure to perform well for tryouts or skills assessments.
Showing them how proud you are
According to some youth athletic mental health experts, the best way to help your young athlete cope is to remind them you love them and are proud of them no matter where they place for the upcoming season. That means give them a squeeze and show them you are their number one cheerleader through it all.
The Youth Athletes Foundation says another way to manage the stresses of transitioning is to set realistic, simple goals with your young player to help inspire a healthy mentality and approach to performance expectations. However, if you talk to several seasoned coaches or sports parents they will tell you the secret weapon in overcoming performance anxiety is to get out on the field with your athlete and make it silly and fun. In a non-competitive or structured atmosphere remind your athlete why it is they love the game they play. With my young athletes, I usually play a game of hot-potato with a ball and toss it to them in silly ways. We increase the circle after every few rounds. It isn’t long before my little athletes are laughing and remembering why they love the sport they play.
But, if your athlete is still expressing feelings of performance anxiety many coaches suggest scheduling pre-season sit down with the coach to discuss sports expectations and what to expect during try-outs, skills assessments, team placements and the future season. Many youth mental health experts also believe having a conversation with your child’s future coach can put their nerves at ease.
Sportlo put together this list to help sports parents prepare for a successful new season.
Get sports physicals early
Many schools, leagues, and club sports maintain summer hours and have sports physical forms on hand to give to parents. Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to have a sports physical done. If you are unable to get an appointment with their doctor, pharmacies like Walgreens Healthcare Clinic or CVS Minute Clinic have providers that can complete sports physicals.
Check sports gear
Many youth athletes do a great deal of growing during the summer. That means old gear may no longer fit appropriately. To ensure proper safety and usage, check your child’s gear to make sure it fits well with room to grow. For many families that may mean new athletic shoes, padding, and essential equipment. Also, be sure to check out equipment requirements and regulations before the start of any season – especially if your child is moving up divisions or leagues.
It shocks many sports parents to find out what was allowed in a lower division is no longer allowed in a higher division. Places like Big 5 Sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods have trained professionals to help with these issues. They can also measure young athletes and help select the appropriate gear for your athlete and sport.
If your child has made it through try-outs and selected to play multiple positions, be prepared to buy equipment for all the positions they will play. A future Sportlo blog post will discuss ways to cut costs on gear, fundraising ideas and enlisting help from extended family members.
Sportlo.com will dive deeper with pointers in a future blog, but now is a good time to start organizing your athlete's gear, uniforms and practice uniforms to cut down on the “where’s my uniform” headaches on game days.
Set realistic goals together
Make a goals chart with your young athlete where you can help them measure and see their own growth. Make the goals simple and achievable. Some achievable goals can include appropriate usage of fundamental sport-specific skills and less focus on bettering game statistics. For example, the goals we are setting for our oldest son this fall season is simply working on his switch-hitting techniques and tighter throwing skills.
That doesn’t mean we will abandon all other skills. Youth sports experts say these sorts of obtainable goals should be approached like attending a gym. The skill your athlete is wishing to improve on should have more focus during the week. Coaches and experts also say don’t put the added pressure on youth athletes by adding deadlines. Deadlines only create more performance anxiety in youth athletes.
Set reasonable schedules with plenty of time to still be a kid
While practice does make perfect, too much of a good thing can actually have negative impacts, like sports burnout. Experts say young athletes still need dedicated time to do homework, spend time with friends and family and leisure time built into their schedules. The best way to achieve this is to build in a minimum of one day every week where your young athlete can rest and reconnect with the family and friends. For example, in our family we take Sundays off to reconnect and recharge as a family; no sports and no homework.
Back-to-school means new school schedules and sports schedules. Seasoned youth sports coaches and parents agree the best way to avoid scheduling conflicts, mistakes and hiccups is to get the schedules as early as possible and create a family calendar. For our family, we use a two calendar method. On our smart devices, we have a shared family calendar app where I can set reminders, notifications, and updates to schedules for specific family members or everyone. It has been a LIFESAVER! I also still use the old fashioned paper wall calendar in our kitchen, where the entire family can take a quick glance first thing in the mornings or the night prior.
It might shock you to realize simple things like homework suddenly need to be scheduled when you have one or more youth athletes. It’s essential you have a good working relationship and open line of communication with your young athletes’ teachers so you can be on top of their homework schedule. Add these things into your family calendar and life will go a lot more smoothly.
Be prepared to do homework on the road. Invest in some cushy lap desks from Walmart or Target for your youth athletes to get homework done in the vehicle or at siblings’ practices or games. Sportlo.com will have a future blog that goes more into this subject with helpful ways to approach homework for busy young athletes.
Build-in an easily assessable snack system
I’m sure you’ve already noticed your youth athlete seems to be a bottomless pit during sports seasons versus their off-seasons. It’s because they are! All the stored energy they have from breakfast and lunch has been sucked up from working hard at school. Most youth athletes are tired and hungry after school. Recharge them with snacks before shuffling off to do homework and sports practices or games.
We have three of those collapsible fabric cube boxes filled with healthy dry snacks. One is in our family van, one in our second vehicle and the third in the snack corner of our kitchen. I keep them well-stocked as well as replenishing sports drinks, juices and water in the snack drawer of our refrigerator. On practice or game days, all three of my young athletes have their own medium folding cooler to put ice packs and drinks in.
As a youth sports coach and parent I know we are usually responsible to bring snacks at least twice a season for all three boys. At the start of every season, I head to Costco and stock up on healthy snacks for all three teams and place them in each boy's team snack cube. This cuts down on the hectic-mad rush to a grocery store between school and game time for snacks. *Don’t forget to add which day and for which athlete you are responsible for snacks into your joint family calendar app. This too will cut down on the headache of sending one parent back to your home to pick up the snacks you forgot.
Back-to-sports can be filled with uncertainty, performance anxieties, and new scheduling nightmares, but with some pre-season preparations, youth sports parents can help kick off a successful new season. Cut down on the back-to-sports mania by staying a step ahead and address conflicts early.