I’m trying to organize a trip to Niagara Falls to include my kids and grandkids. Guess what? It’s a dismal failure. Why? Those pesky sports schedules leave no room for everyone to travel at the same time. I know you’ve all faced this dilemma. I used to have a calendar that I color-coded, which I thought would make discovering a particular schedule at a glance a breeze. All it managed to do was make my calendar a rainbow blur. There was soccer, baseball, camps, all-star games, tryouts, and many split into select and "fun" teams. Robbie and Bryce played in a Latino soccer league in the city, did local baseball and travel baseball, had their select team, did regional league, and for one season added futsol. When my relatives would ask when I was coming to visit, I would say 2025. I never had to worry about boredom in the summer, only about gas prices.
So when is it overkill? How do you fit vacations and downtime into your summer? We teach our kids about commitment and want to take all of our commitments seriously. Teams depend on our children’s involvement to insure a strong team performance. When we start filling out those team forms, usually as early as January, we rarely have game and practice schedules to help guide our decisions. Suddenly we get swallowed up into the maelstrom that is summer sports. We also get the guilt from coaches, parents and teammates if we even hint that we might miss a game or two so we can whitewater raft in Colorado. Even our own kids will chime in with their complaints that they can’t miss certain games as they are pivotal to making championships. Add into the mix unknowns, such as: Will a team make the US Youth Soccer State Championships? Regionals? And, ultimately, Nationals? So, we have to leave those dates open until our kids’ participation is either assured or ended.
Parents can exercise three options. First, you can be proactive by establishing one week in the summer that will be family time for vacations. I have found that centering this around July 4 might insure missing very few games as lots of programs avoid scheduling games and practices within a few days on either side of the holiday. Of course, that week will be the most crowded and expensive for travel, but it is also the time least likely to cause conflicts. No matter what week you pick, let the clubs, teams, coaches, and anyone else in a position to be affected know that your child won’t be available during that time. Then the powers that be can decide if they can live with that arrangement or not. Once they agree to it, the matter should be closed and there shouldn’t be any guilt trips as the time nears. If they don’t agree, then you’ll have to decide what’s more important: family time or team time. The choice will be yours and your child’s. Whatever you decide, you will know that you acted with integrity without surprising the team with a sudden decision to miss a week.
Second, if you can’t decide so early in the year when you might be able to take a vacation, then be sure to inform the team the moment you decide if your child is going to miss time. Remember that all of life is a balancing act, and many decisions end up being the lesser of two evils. You have a right to make family plans and if those conflict with team plans it’s unfortunate but not tragic. Don’t let anyone guilt you into questioning your decision. In the long run, this will be a tiny blip on the trail of life. It seems remarkably important at the time, but believe me, after decades of youth sports in our family I can’t even tell you losses and wins, but I can tell you about a great family trip like the "fort" trip we made down the East Coast or the time we explored Key West. Who knows five years down the road if your child will still be playing even if you both are passionate about it now?
Third, you can organize a trip around a travel team’s away tournaments. We have made some really memorable vacations using tournaments as an excuse to visit an area. In fact, several years ago we got to explore Niagara with the boys because they were guest playing in a national Croatian soccer tournament 30 miles outside of Niagara in Hamilton, Ontario. There was a memorable tournament in Indianapolis where we were able to visit an amazing Children’s Museum, the NCAA Hall of Champions, Amish towns and other significant historical sites in Indiana. We went down two days earlier and stayed an extra day after most of the tournaments thereby avoiding missing team games and practices. Robbie’s team played at Disney World, which was a fabulous combo trip. The only downside is that it may not fit in with the schedule of your other players.
I’m hoping my daughter and son-in-law in Ohio agree to let their sons miss a few practices, so they can join us in Niagara. But I will definitely respect their decision not to do that. I know how difficult it is to balance lessons about commitment, family demands and schedules. Each family has to decide how to prioritize for themselves without regard to anyone else’s pressures. It will be difficult because I really want all the cousins to get together. However, that’s my dream, which doesn’t necessarily fit into their reality. I’m hopeful, but I’m also prepared to smile and say, "I understand."
Life is short and family lasts forever, so my message would be to focus on creating family memories outside of sports. While I am an avid supporter of youth sports, I also know that they can overtake your life to the point that they choke out other worthwhile activities. I appreciate the life lessons of camaraderie, commitment, collaboration, winning and losing with dignity, and maintaining a regimen of exercise that sports offer our children. I do think that sports can be an enhancement to how we raise our children, but they shouldn’t be the primary activity, especially if other children in the family are not participating. Family time that benefits everyone should take a priority over individual activities at least once a year. Time to decompress, get reacquainted outside the demands of daily family life and build family memories should be emphasized. It will take plenty of planning and the ability to resist outside pressures, but as the decades pass, these will be the moments that stand out in our children’s memories and set the stage for their own family occasions. Nothing could be more satisfying, not even a soccer game.