SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 29, 2013

Spring sports: So many choices, how do you decide?

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Q: My 12-year-old son wants to play two sports this spring. How can I tell if he can handle it? My husband wants him to play baseball, while my son wants to play lacrosse and soccer.

A: As the spring seasons of baseball, soccer and lacrosse begin, now is a good time for thoughtful conversations before signing up for various teams. The older a child gets, the more demanding life becomes, and practices and games are only one part of this.

I’m all for playing and experiencing multiple sports. From a purely athletic, mental and social perspective, different sports complement each other and provide a variety of learning experiences. Participating in more than one sport per season is a huge commitment and tweens don’t always recognize this. For elementary school-age children, ages 5 to 10 or 11, sometimes managing two sports per season is doable, especially when teams do not travel for games.

For middle-schoolers at the tween age, sports teams typically travel. This means more practices, more competition and more involvement. There are often tournaments at the end of the season, as well.

Parent should consider these factors when contemplating more than one sport per season.

Sports are great, and yet they should not interfere with family time and academic time. Revered family time during a heavy sports season becomes even rarer than usual, so plan time for at least two weekly family dinners and one special meal with a family activity on the weekend.

Regarding academics, tweens should plan for up to 11/2 hours per night of homework. When sports compromise academics, problems arise, so avoid that.

When playing two sports, multiple transitions are inevitable as people shuffle from one field to the next. Changing clothes in the car and rushing between games and practices are commonplace and interfere with necessary transition time that helps kids to relax and refocus.

If you want to scare him off the idea of two sports, write out his commitments on a visual calendar. Most tweens will run in the other direction when they see no time for Xbox or Minecraft on there.

Can you really handle two sports given all that’s involved? Are you prepared for the “what ifs,” such as your son saying midseason “this is more than I thought, can I stop now?” You’ve put your life on hold, and now he wants to quit. Feeling a little resentful? There’s a high chance of burnout with over-scheduling. Do you let him quit or force him to play feeling burned out? I have a better idea: Avoid the whole thing and stick to one sport.

Finally, do you have other children in sports? If so, then you are already doing two sports.

As you can tell, I am not a fan of tweens and adolescents playing two sports per season. Packing in activities causes anxiety and creates stress. Although it sounds fun and exciting, the reality is an overpacked schedule means no fun and the only excitement anyone will see is mom or dad yelling a lot.

In my practice, I hear dads who struggle to accept their son’s lack of enthusiasm for baseball. Of course, this is disheartening; these dads have looked forward to playing baseball with their son from the day he was born. Team sports are about socializing, teamwork, leadership, confidence and fun, regardless of the type of sport played. Baseball with its long games and limited playing time is less popular with youngsters today who play their first sports games not on a field, but on the Xbox, where soccer and lacrosse are more popular than baseball.

Your husband and son need to talk about what sports mean to each of them. For your husband, this is an opportunity to listen, to share and to let go. For your son, it’s a chance to self-advocate and make decisions that are separate from yours and your husband’s. Healthy identity development occurs when parents encourage children to make independent choices. Addressing and resolving differences bring family members together and prevents walls that build resentment.

Parenting tip: One of the toughest aspects of parenting is saying no, and yet it’s sometimes necessary. Together with your husband, embrace your son’s independence, as with choosing his own sport (when you have safety concerns regarding a sport he chooses, then as the parent, you do have the final word). Find ways to connect with your son around his interests. Your son’s investment in playing sports demonstrates his motivation and desire to grow, all things you want to foster and be proud of.

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Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach helping parents help their children using simple, solution-focused strategies. Send your parenting questions to kate@kateroberts andassociates.com, search for Dr. Kate Roberts on Facebook or visit her Winning Parents blog at www.drkateroberts.com. Look for her upcoming column on Instagram and how and at what age your child should be using it.