For a lot of families, back-to-school can also mean the return of a favorite fall pastime: youth sports. While some people can handle the new loaded schedule with ease, many parents (myself included) find themselves struggling to stay on top of everything during these weeks when we’re ushering in earlier sunsets, cooler weather, the return of homework, and everything else that the start of school brings.
Although most parents feel like the only way to survive the start of fall sports season is by cloning themselves, there are a few hacks that can help you get through the season without losing your cool.
There’s an old joke that the parents of youth players like to make: during sports season, dinner is either at 4:30 or 9:30 and there is no in-between. Most weeknight games or practices start right at 6, which means that by the time kids are done with their homework and parents have returned from work, it’s basically time to run out the door.
Most parents find themselves torn between trying to eat something really quickly before heading out or waiting to dine until the end of the night when they return home. That can create a lot of issues for those struggling to manage their time (and hunger) wisely. Parent and lifestyle writer Jené Luciani Sena says one way to deal with those dinner difficulties is to accept the fact that you’re in survival mode on these nights. “I do lots of crock pot stuff but it’s also about not beating yourself up for everyone to eat perfectly,” she says. “Sometimes it’s McDonald’s at 9:30 PM. The point is to just get through!”
Work with what you have.
Lets face it, you won’t get everything crossed off your nightly to-do list before you have to leave the house each night, which is why Jeannette Kaplun, parenting author and mother of two, suggests figuring out what you can take on the road to accomplish with you, even if that means doing homework on the fly. “Create a mobile ‘homework station’ that you keep in the car,” Kaplun says. “It can be a simple plastic bin that has pencils, erasers, scissors, notebook paper, and other basic supplies so children can do their homework on the go.”
Enlist help in dealing with littles.
All of these games and practices can be hard for little siblings, who might find themselves wandering around the field causing a distraction for players and making it hard for you to watch your bigger kids play. Sena says there’s no shame in calling in reinforcements to help you wrangle some of your kids so that you can be fully present in your big kid’s life when you need to be. “We do utilize a babysitter for our youngest when the other kids have sports going on,” she reveals.
Keep it all straight.
Another major pain point for some families is keeping track of who has to be where – and when! “Scheduling and everyone being on the same page is imperative, so we use a family calendar on our smartphones,” Sena shares. “I’d say that luck favors the prepared, so the key is looking at the schedule for the week every Sunday and being sure you know who is going where, when, and that the bags are packed and in the right spots.”
Make sure you have the staples on hand.
Anyone who has ever sat through a practice or a game knows how important it is to have all your bases covered (sports pun intended). That can mean making sure you always have a few key items with you wherever you go. “I always leave my bag chairs, blankets, and a first aid kit with sunscreen, bug spray, Band-Aids, dry ice packs, wipes, etcetera in my trunk at all times, so you aren’t forgetting the stuff you need for practices and games,” Sena says.
It’s also super important to make sure you’re repacking your child’s duffle bag after each event. “We make sure the sports bags are always packed and re-stocked for the next game or practice. And having extra stuff (shin guards, cups) on hand helps too, as we’ve learned the hard way!”
Food is always a must!
There are few things more distracting than a hangry kid (or when you’re getting a little peckish yourself), which is why Sena says snacks are a must! She suggests loading your go-bag up with some munchies and Gatorades – and be prepared to share! Other kids may be in the same boat, which is why Sena says she will offer some munchies up when some of the other nearby kids get a little snacky.
“Nothing is more annoying than sitting through a three-hour softball game and having your other child starving and thirsty,” she says. “I think this year I’ll probably end up Door Dashing to the field if I forget something.”
The best way to survive the fall sports season is to be realistic with your time, which may mean saying no when it comes to signing your kids up every activity that they want to participate in.
“One of the many reasons our family started traveling full-time is because of the hectic lifestyle in the US,” explains Alanna Gallo, Education Expert, Founder of Play. Learn. Thrive, and mother of four. “We had so many schedules to manage.” Now Gallo says her biggest tip is to avoid over-scheduling your children. “It’s so important for them to have downtime to play versus being carted from one adult-led activity to another. Play, even through middle childhood, is one of the best ways for kids to learn.”