10 Ways for Families to Enjoy Little League

10 Ways for Families to Enjoy Little League February 22, 2013

Just yesterday I received a Little League notice in my inbox.  Registration is happening now, opening day has been scheduled, and I’ve already calendared our mandatory “field clean up day.”  Mr. Red is all signed up to coach our oldest son, and my body feels warmer just thinking about baseball.

Old School Charlie

Every year since my childhood, the beginning of baseball season was such a hopeful time.  The world was coming out of its dark slumber.  Birds were in the air, tulips were blooming, and the Phillies were getting ready for opening day.  For many years the Phillies were just plain awful, but Opening Day was always filled with joy and hope.  “This year things could be different, and even if they aren’t, it’s spring.”

Now, as a mother, I have this same joyful anticipation of little league season (and spring soccer!).  The days will be longer, the air warmer, and those playgrounds are waiting!

And yet, I realize that youth sports with a larger family can present it’s own set of challenges.  Late evenings on the ball field and cranky toddlers don’t mix.  Dinners at the snack stand leave everyone feeling yucky.  And then there is the unpredictable rain.

So here is our guide for surviving and thriving in youth sports.

1)   Don’t start too soon.  I know 4 year olds in t-ball uniforms are super cute, but resist the temptation.  Youth sports are a commitment for the whole family, and kids have many years to participate.  Rec. programs are beginning at younger and younger ages, which can be hard for larger families.  For the extreme extrovert this can be a nice way to get some cute pictures and meet members of your community, BUT an early start often leads to burnout for Mom and Dad (and for more intense sports, burnout for the kids).  Most youth sports should not begin until age 5 or 6, and with baseball, I’d consider waiting until age 6 or 7.  Work with your budding athlete in the backyard for a season or two first, it will make everyone a whole lot happier if you delay that first game just an extra year.

2)   Get involved!  Have Dad help coach or volunteer yourself!  Sign up to bring a snack.  Invite the team over for a party.  Do something to invest in the team and the community.  You will feel a lot happier if you help to create a nice environment for your child.  We had Gianna’s soccer team over for a bonfire, and it was really a great time.

3)   Remember that youth sports are about character.  Even skill development is about virtues such as perseverance and a willingness to take correction.   Notice the virtues, not just the end result.  If you tend to be competitive, pray for the grace to see sports as a lifelong learning experience.  Playing a sport and learning to push your body are important parts of a child’s education.

4)   Always eat before you leave.  Most youth sports are after work/school, and the family should eat before arriving.  Buying unhealthy snacks and eating junk at the field might be ok for one night, but it sets kids up for bad behavior, AND makes them think that baseball or soccer is about eating, not playing.  Try to make the time at the ball field about the sport, and the playground (for the spectator siblings).  If you have to rearrange your afternoons to eat an early dinner, do it.

5)   Enlist the help of grandparents.  If you have local grandparents, ask for their help!  We try to have our parents help out one night per week, and on those nights, I stay home with younger kids.  This breaks up the week and allows local grandparents to play an important role in your child’s experience.  Consider child-care one evening per week if family isn’t local.  Or ask Dad to commit to one night per week of driving.  Mr. Red will often bring work home for later in the evening.  This makes him available for rides, making the season much more enjoyable.

6)   Have a plan for rain and cancelled practices.  If you eat early, a cancelled practice or game should be seen as a night off.  Take the kids somewhere fun if you are all dressed and ready to leave or stay home and have a family game or movie night.

7)   Ask for help with rides.  Offer to carpool and don’t feel badly about asking for help, especially when the schedule has been altered because of weather.  If a make-up game falls on a day of the week that isn’t set up for sports, offer to drop the child off and have the coach give that child a ride home.  Or, if even that is too difficult, skip that one night because it was not on the original schedule.  You should not feel stressed about missing a sporting event for a 6 year old child!

8)   Teach your child to be responsible for his or her own equipment.  Make sure there is a system for equipment and put the child in charge of it.  Our kids pack their own bags and carry a checklist to make sure no items are forgotten.  We take time at the beginning of each season to get a good system for all equipment.  If possible, purchase extra socks if there are games more than one day per week.

9)   Resist the temptation for extra camps and more competitive programs unless your child is really ready.  Burnout is a huge problem these days.  The trend seems to be specialization at earlier and earlier ages.  Resist it.  Don’t let your child quit other things to focus on baseball at the age of 7.  There will come a time for specialization, travel programs and extra camps, but it isn’t at the age of 6 or 7.  All these things are expensive and can lead to burn out if your child is too young.  Don’t commit too soon.  Remember, most kids get better in their own backyard, and there is nothing wrong with being middle of the pack because you aren’t ready to focus on one sport.

10)  Savor the priceless moments.  Going to little league games may seem like a burden now, but imagine yourself 10 years from now, when your children are driving themselves to countless activities.  You’ll long for these simple times where you could sit at a ball field on a beautiful spring day and watch your son in his little league uniform have fun playing ball with his friends.  Every once in a while, just pause and savor the moment.  This time won’t last forever, but the memories will.

And if you are still feeling burned out by the last few weeks of the season, don’t worry!  Most parents are ready to wrap things up by May.

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  • Mary Alice

    Very helpful, thanks. I am totally on board with the philosophy, but I still need more practical gems, like the one about the socks and vegetables. Actually, our pants can’t go in the dryer, so I am going to double up on those for back to back games this year. And how the heck do you get them clean?

    What do you eat at 4:30? Do you let the player have Gatorade? Also, what to keep in the car for changing weather – last year I was so impressed by the mom with a stack of old towels, since the big boys play in the rain. I think I need more sweatshirts, early spring nights get cold.

    What about a bedtime routine when you get home dirty from the park at 8 pm?

    I will add that even as more of an introvert, I love baseball once it gets going and have made some really good friends through it, it has been a great way for us to be in our community more.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I don’t worry about the pants being really clean. I wash them and my kids can wear something with a stain if it doesn’t come out in the normal wash cycle. It is youth sports, so who really cares. I scrub church clothes, not sports uniforms.

    I keep diapers, wipes, warm clothes (sweatshirts or light jackets for all), umbrellas (you never really use these at your house anyway), ponchos (can be purchase for $1 each at Walmart and are super small), a chair for me, and a blanket for my kids in the van at all times. My stroller is also always in there, as sometimes the best way for a baby to watch the game is from a stroller seat. That being said, when it rains I do not stay at the field with toddlers and babies. I call Mr. Red, one of our parents, or ask a coach/other parent to give my child a ride home. Everyone always seems to be really understanding that I am not going to stay at the field with small children in the rain or very cold weather.

    We eat a regular dinner at 4:30. I start “cooking” at 3 or 3:30. I try to make simpler meals, but it is normal dinner food (grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, rice, etc.).

    As for bedtime routine, toddlers and babies nap in the afternoon, and last fall I would actually stand outside Claire’s room to make sure she slept for her nap b/c she was miserable if she didn’t. We then do an extremely quick rinse in the tub if children are dirty, and right to bed. No bedtime stories. We don’t do this every night, as I mentioned earlier I call in back up for later pick-ups. My parents or Mr. Red’s Dad help at least one night per week. And Mr. Red does at least 1-2 nights per week so that I can be home by 7:30 with younger kids. My older children get on a “later” schedule in season for sports. They get home, shower, talk to us, and often eat a snack before bedtime at 9 or 9:30pm. For practices, I drop a child at the field, return home, prep everyone for bed, then head back out to pick up the child. Toddlers and babies don’t leave the car so they are clean and ready for bed when we arrive home. Last fall, Charlie’s soccer coach basically gave Charlie a ride home after every practice, and he seemed happy to do so, so take advantage of the offers when they come.

    Finally, because older kids are often at practices and games alone in inclement weather, I make sure their bags are always packed with a sweatshirt, gloves, a hat, etc. They won’t have access to my stash in the car if they are dropped at the field.

    And I allow my older children to have Gatorade if they want to. I have, however, talked to them about how it is best used to replace electrolytes after hard running, so it isn’t really ideal for baseball (but soccer on a warm day!), and that with only certain exceptions, water is better. My kids have been really good with this and will only choose Gatorade about once every week for a treat.

  • Texas Mommy

    Thanks Red! Your comment on the nitty gritty details, what is in bags/your car is just what I needed! Early dinner, bedtime snack seems like the way to still ensure healthy food all around!

  • A chair for me! I am going to treat myself to one at the sporting goods store this season.