It's the season for youth sports sign-ups and evaluations. Visit any sporting-goods store in Chattanooga today and you'll see a swarm of families buying cleats.
If you're a parent of a 4- or 5-year-old starting youth sports this spring, you've come to the right place. Today, I'd like to share my handy-dandy list called: "10 things that youth leagues don't tell you."
10 "We won't be keeping score."
In some under-6 leagues, both soccer and T-ball, they don't keep score. This drives some parents nuts. You'll hear people say: "Well, they keep score in real life. Why not start early."
• Translation: "How dare they deny me the gratification of victory secured by my 4-year-old student-athlete."
• My advice: Chill. If you want to keep score in your head, nobody will stop you, since winning a T-ball game 17-16 is such a clear benchmark of human excellence. If you feel the need to calculate a child's T-ball batting average, however, seek counseling.
9"You win some, you lose some."
Some parents need to be reminded of this. When they do start keeping score in your child's sports league, don't get too excited, or dejected, if they win or lose. If your child plays long enough, he/she will be on a team that wins everything and a team that wins nothing.
As in every other aspect of life, the law of averages applies.
8"Relax; everybody gets a trophy."
No matter how good or bad your child turns out to be at sports, he or she will inevitably collect a boat load of participation trophies and medals. Figure out a way to show them off in your child's room. (Hint: Medals also make good drink coasters.)
7 "You don't have to buy the 50-piece team photo package."
Do you really need two dozen wallet-size prints of your child's soccer team? Buy a couple of 4-by-6s and be done with it. If you want to spurge on pictures, take them yourself. And don't waste so much time getting the Sports Illustrated-style action shot. The photo of Junior peering at you between the webbing of his glove in the dugout is what you'll treasure in 30 years.
6 "You are an honorary coach, even from the bleachers."
For some reason, T-ball and U-6 soccer parents think it is necessary to flog their children with words.
As the great humor columnist Dave Barry once pointed out, some youth soccer crowds are surprisingly nuanced in their understanding of the beautiful game. You know this, Barry notes, because all the parents sound something like this: "KICK IT! KICK IT! KICK IT! RUN! RUN! RUN! KICK IT! KICK IT! KICK IT! RUN! KICK IT! KICK IT! RUN! RUN! KICK IT!"
5 "All you have to fear is the beginning, middle and end."
Let's face the truth. The first time your first child puts on a uniform, it will be an unsettling experience - for both of you. You, as the adult, are expected to hold it together.
Your child has no such luxury. Take time to explain to your boy or girl exactly what is about to happen, from the pregame stretch to the post-game juice box. If you're not sure yourself, ask a friend with an older child.
4"Your younger kids will become ballpark babies."
Take a minute and think about how your younger children will weather the long hours at the practice fields and ballparks, watching their older siblings.
My theory is that more character is built by 2-year-olds playing in the dirt than by their 4-year-old siblings playing T-ball. The little guys learn essential life skills such as independence and sharing. For kids 2 and under, two words: Bring snacks.
3 "Youth sports may take over your life."
You might find yourself facing a perfect storm like my family faced yesterday. Weather permitting, my 9-year-old son was to have had a basketball game at 9 a.m., baseball evaluations at 1:30 p.m. and consecutive soccer games at 2:45 and 4 p.m.
Luckily, this kind of chaos only happens one or two days a year. But, the point it, beware of overscheduling.
2 "Keep a hand on your wallet."
If you are not careful, the cost of youth sports can spiral out of control. Kids outgrow cleats overnight. You'll be tempted to splurge on deluxe equipment. Good players are often invited to play on expensive travel squads.
That check you right for rec is just the beginning. Just keep things in perspective.
1 "Get ready for the best years of your life."
As a parent, nothing really compares to afternoons watching your kids play sports. I talk to empty-nesters who still pine for those days at the ballpark.
Take all the cautions above with a grain of salt. If your child is about to play youth sports for the first time, sit back and enjoy. Just ahead are the sweetest days of your life.