At 7:45 on a beautiful Saturday morning in May, I’ll be standing on the sidelines with other parents for 90 minutes as my daughter plays small-sided soccer with 23 other kids. The girls look like they’re having fun, but the adults are in agony. Why?
Turns out there’s one rule at today’s travel tryouts: we can’t say anything—not one “Whoo-hoo,” not a single “Come on” or “Go get ’em!” Instead we chat about the weather as we secretly wonder what those guys with the clipboards—the hired evaluators—are thinking about our children.
And that’s where it starts.
Trying out for a travel sports team marks a time of change for your child—and for you.
I’m a huge advocate of organized sports. I was a three-sport athlete in high school, played on a travel softball team as a teenager, and have been a volunteer coach. I know the benefits that come when you’re part of a team.
But even with all my varsity letters and trophies, I was far from ready as a parent in the travel sports world. I had a lot to learn.
For starters, there’s the stress of worrying if your wunderkind—the one who heard applause every time she went to the bathroom on the big-girl potty—will be good enough for the team. She may not be, which will lead to one of your first “life lesson” talks. You know what I mean: the kind of conversation that has you Googling a million variations of “what to say when your kid doesn’t make the team.”
But let’s say she makes the squad—great news! Only her BFF doesn’t. Back to Googling…
I learned many valuable lessons during my rookie season in travel sports. Here’s a quick rundown:
1. Accept organized chaos.
Type A/über organized moms, brace yourselves: nothing sends your schedule into a tailspin faster than baseball practice, a Daisy troop meeting, and religious instruction starting within 15 minutes of each other on different sides of town. And managing rainouts and makeup games will have you feeling like a human app for your iPhone calendar.
2. Embrace the family.
For better or worse, travel sports teams are like an extended family. Your child will spend a ton of time with her teammates, and you with the parents. There will be sweet Aunt Martha types, jolly old Uncle Al types, and even the occasional Debbie Downer. But there’s good news here: as with family, you can rely on other moms and dads to help when you need it (see baseball practice, Daisies, and religious instruction, above).
3. You will spend more money than you planned.
Every travel sport has its own cost structure, much of which depends on the organization and team culture. Aside from tryout costs, registration fees, and uniforms, will there be extra tournaments? Does the team hire a professional trainer? And let’s not forget ancillary items like snack-bar treats for siblings (and yourself) and plenty of take-out dinners. They all add up.
4. Assess your priorities.
Figure out how best to balance the activities and values your family deems most important—be they homework, weekend worship, vacations—with the commitment you’ve made to the team. Unfortunately, that might mean giving up Girl Scouts, cutting back on play dates, or forgoing your annual weekly rental down the shore. We’ve missed worship here and there, but have also sent our daughter to church in her uniform on game day. Luckily she was singing in choir, so you couldn’t see her jersey under the robe.
5. Keep it in perspective.
This may be the highest level of competition in which your child has ever been involved, but it isn’t the NBA or NFL—and the coaches are volunteers. Trust that they’re doing their best to juggle their own commitments as they help your child succeed and have fun.
6. Last, be true to yourself, so your child will feel like a superstar.
Some of the most sage advice I received about kids and sports came from a childhood friend. He said: always remember to be the same parent on the sidelines that you are at the kitchen table—caring, encouraging, and supportive. That will surely make you an M.V.P. (Most Valuable Parent).
Christine Esposito, a writer and mom of two from Cranford, is back on the sidelines for spring soccer.