Tuesday, May 27, 2014
By a show of hands, how many of your kids had a soccer game on Mother’s Day? Wait! Let me ask this another way, how many of your kids did NOT have a soccer game on Mother’s Day? Just as I thought — that was much easier to count. We parents learn early on that holidays are just more open days to hold soccer events. In fact, on Memorial Day weekend we are headed to a double tournament in Columbus, Ohio, which is just one of around 18 Memorial Day weekends we have spent cheering on the sidelines. I’m certain we have all sacrificed many a holiday or school break for soccer while struggling with the added dilemma of missing school to fulfill travel soccer obligations. Juggling the sanity of family with the demands of youth soccer and the additional demands of other activities, including several children’s needs in the mix can create stress just when we should be relaxing.
We want soccer to be fun and that means fun for everyone in the family. Taking family vacation and holiday time to fulfill soccer obligations has to be balanced with those siblings who aren’t playing. We were really lucky because both our sons played soccer and often attended the same tournaments, so the times we had to separate during vacations and holidays were few. Nevertheless, the pressure to march in line with the club’s demands can put amazing stress on a family. Parents willingly sacrifice breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day to get to an 8 a.m. game or forego a family barbeque on Father’s Day. But our kids don’t understand when all their friends are going to Disney World or to a resort on a lake for spring break, they’re roaming the sidelines in Indianapolis while big sis has a tournament. Not exactly the warm and fuzzy family memories kids hope for. How do we balance our lives to provide not only those memories, but the competition our kids crave when they are passionate about soccer?
A really wonderful answer is to attend tournaments in vacation hotspots. Disney offers amazing tournaments that unfortunately are also very competitive to enter. Still, I always encourage clubs to give it a try. You never know when they will need one more U-14 boys team to round out the brackets. Applying isn’t all that difficult and, if you aren’t accepted, costs you nothing. Your club can research tournaments in the general vicinity of Orlando, even if you can’t get into a Disney event. US Youth Soccer maintains a database of sanctioned tournaments where you can input the dates and locations you want to check on. Likewise, Soccer America has a database with search parameters. Inputting “soccer tournaments” into your search engine will produce dozens of options. If you can find a tournament that allows the family to vacation while competing, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Finding a great tournament is one thing, but finding appropriate housing can be difficult. Our sons’ club played in a Tampa area tournament every spring break. We were lucky to get a great deal with a golfing resort. The rooms were all apartments with full kitchens for less than we’d pay at a motel in the area. We got cut rates on greens fees, and the four amazing pools made great places for teams to gather and unwind. You can designate someone in your club to research hotels and resorts as there are often exceptional deals in off-seasons with large bookings. You could possibly score rooms in otherwise far too exclusive resorts and hotels. Tournaments will generally help by providing a list of hotels, although on the downside, some may demand that you book through them. You’ll have to be creative to avoid the requirements, but it can be done. An advantage of an entire club at the same tournaments is that families can easily travel together. Bryce and Robbie both played throughout their youth years in clubs that sent multiple teams to tournaments. That policy also helps with the coaching situations saving money on coach travel and housing and allowing coaches to help one another out when scheduling conflicts arise.
I’ve written before about researching the area where you are traveling for a tournament and finding family activities for the off-times. Most tournaments are held in metropolitan areas, so you can avail yourself of museums, sports teams, malls and theaters. We’ve been able to visit a dozen MLB parks over the course of our soccer journeys, interesting museums, and some unusual natural sites like a dinosaur field in Denver, Indian mounds in La Crosse, and caves in Kentucky. You can use your travels to explore different ethnic restaurants and communities. We’ve eaten Hungarian, Ethiopian, Moroccan and Mongolian on our trips. Not all were hits, but they certainly made solid memories. Just finding a hotel with a good pool, fitness center and/or game room can make a big difference to those siblings who aren’t playing. Bonding with families on other club teams means that you might be able to leave kids behind in their care and reciprocate later in the day when they need help.
This is also a good plan for overall participation. We wanted to attend all our kids’ games, but realistically that can’t always happen. Picking some games and trips to opt out of in favor of the other children in the family can help ease the resentment that “it’s always about soccer.” We often brought along teammates on our trips to help out their families. Because we were lucky enough to have both our kids in the same sport at the same tournaments, we didn’t often have the conflicts of family time vs. soccer time. So we were happy to help out and more than willing to take others up on their offer to do the same if we needed it. As the boys got older, we ended up renting two hotel rooms — one for grown-ups and one for the kids — which was as much for our sanity as for modesty. We never ran into anyone taking advantage of the situation by sneaking out or bringing in illegal substances, but that’s probably because Bryce and Robbie weren’t shy about disapproving and the kids we brought along weren’t really the rebel type. Having guests with us actually made our trips smoother as we were all on good behavior and conversations during meals ended up being lively and engaging. One tournament we went to a restaurant that served all kinds of unusual foods like gator bites, frog legs, snails, rattlesnake, bison burgers and pickled sea urchin. We ordered some of each and had lots of great laughs as the boys around the table tried (or refused to try) each delicacy. We probably wouldn’t have done that with just our kids, but having three additional “victims” emboldened us to order freely.
When it comes to missing school, the issues get murky. Even great students can fall behind missing just a few days of instruction. Each family has to decide for itself what works and what won’t work. The difficulty is that as teams become more diverse and don’t just include kids from the same community, you open yourself up to various vacation schedules. Spring break for some teammates doesn’t coincide with the break for others. Therefore, clubs will commit to tournaments that may or may not mesh with your child’s days off. We hope that clubs will be flexible and understand the need to meet the expectations of education over the requirements of soccer. Unfortunately, some clubs can be very dogmatic about kids attending events or they risk being benched. This makes it imperative that at tryouts you find out what the tournament or league game schedules will be and how well they mesh with the school calendar, along with establishing what will be the consequences for missing a team event in favor of school. School isn’t the only consideration. There can be other important conflicts such as confirmation, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, significant religious holidays (often Yom Kippur and Easter can be interrupted by soccer), and commitments to other activities like 4H or drama club. Since most kids aren’t going to go on to college or pro, and many won’t even play high school soccer, it seems unhealthy to focus solely on soccer. I take commitment quite seriously, but I also consider a happy childhood as important. We parents should never be afraid to err on the side of normalcy when it comes to conflicts.
In the end, we want our children to look back on their youth as a happy, fulfilling time. When they are passionate about soccer, giving up holidays and vacations to attend soccer events might not be particularly unpleasant. But for the other family members, those disruptions might be frustrating and miserable. We need to keep in mind that no one individual’s activities should continually overshadow any other individual’s activities. We can’t be perfect, but we can certainly try to find a balance. Sending our soccer kids in the company of other families or with club chaperones can help us give attention to our other kids. When we do take the family to soccer events, we may be missing a trip to Disney, but we might also find an adventure that will be far more priceless and memorable. It’s how we invest in the experience that enriches it for our clan.