Friday, May 30, 2008

Summer FUN for the even the Youngest

It’s not to early for your child to learn that SUMMER = FUN and SUMMER = New things, new sport skills, and new friends.

So, your preschooler is in a great routine. Either:

1) He goes to daycare/preschool for most of the day while you work…this provides great structure, social time with all his friends, education time, exercise, outdoor time, naptime, exposure to other adults who love him and take care of him, OR

2) He stays home with you all day, and, being the awesome parent you are: you provide him with structure, social time with his friends, exercise, outdoor time, education time, naptime, etc and of course, the bonding time with mom (or dad) on an all day, everyday basis, OR

3) He goes to preschool part-time (9-12) and gets all of the above (except the nap).

Either way, it’s a great life…no pressure, no tests, no teachers dirty looks. However, the one thing it is…it’s the SAME (duh, structure is good, we know that) every day…every week….every month. Since it is working so well, we hesitate to change it in the summer and most pre-schoolers just continue with the same routine all summer long. But, summer, even before they start elementary school, can be an awesome time of change and learning for kids…time for some NEW EXPERIENCES.

There are many ways to make summer special with structured activities and sports opportunities for the little ones that can be as short as day or last the entire summer.

They can try:

Ø Daycamp specializing in a particular sport, most YMCAs (but also local universities, city parks and rec departments, and private sports clubs have these and usually a 5 year old (heading to Kindergarten in the fall) can participate. At a young age, spending just one week playing a new sport with a good coach can make an non-athlete become a superstar in the fall league. They are sponges at this age (not just of educational material, but sports skills too).

Ø Swim teams: many neighborhood pools have swim teams and kids can start as young as 3. Some have requirements that your kid can make it one lap, but some will even let a non-swimmer join (like my local pool) and treat the daily practices like swim lessons. Swim team is usually a HUGE benefit to families, they provide daily practices (exercise), daily socialization with new friends, and the swim meets tend to be major social events for the kids and parents. Most kids are not stressed about the 6 or less times they get to race, they spend 90% of the meet hanging out with their buddies stuffing their face with candy (for energy, you know) and smacking each other with towels. I can’t recommend joining the neighborhood swim team any more highly.

Ø Weeklong ‘classic’ camp: I mean the type of camp we all think of when we think of camp: it’s in the country (or at least feels like it), you go swimming, do crafts, ride horses, do archery, canoe, have cabins. This is a great summer tradition and if your child is confident and comfortable with being away from home (it’s great to do this kind of camp with a friend), now (the year before kindergarten starts) is a perfect time to start exploring. The kids learn new skills and make new friends. Often they get bonded with the group and want to go back year after year. They make new friends from out of town and write letters throughout the next year. Obviously age 5 is pretty young and many kids are not quite ready for an entire week away from home yet (I would never insist a child go at this age), many camps have option of ‘commuter’ camper where they go ALL day (usually till at least 9:00pm). I’ve found my commuter campers usually love camp so much that next year they always chose to be sleepers.

Ø Vacation Bible school—many, many churches have these, usually week-long bible classes, that young kids can attend. They are always quite fun and focused on the child enjoying himself. You can always find one to fit your schedule as the churches seem to stagger the weeks, the programs and the hours (some are in the daytime and some in the evenings). It’s beneficial sometimes to attend one that is not given by your own church as a way of making new friends, meeting new teachers, etc. That can also make it a ‘special’ summer activity, otherwise he will probably end up with the same teachers he has year round for Sunday School.

Ø Mini-camps (usually 9-12 each day for a week) given by local parks and rec departments, private schools, science or art museums, good daycares and many other organizations. These often have a theme such as: Bugs, Space, Pottery, or Sports week. This is a phenomenal way to get you kid into new things and see what types of stuff he prefers (science vs. sports, etc)

Whatever you do with your child this summer, emphasize FUN, EXERCISE and LEARNING something NEW. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tryouts-The Aftermath

I couldn’t have been more correct (if I do say so myself) to call Tryouts the scariest ride of the summer based on my own families past experiences. If asked, I’d name it the Emotional Rollercoaster.

First of all, the tension and worry in the week before is there for all but the most confident players and their families. Last post I talked about how to minimize it, but it’s still a stressful time. Due to that, it’s pretty common for a kid to get sick, break an arm, or have his first seizure the day before tryouts. I know one of mine once actually fell out of her seat in math and scratched up her arm and twisted her ankle the day of tryouts….Geez, like I don’t have enough to worry about, now I have to worry about math injuries?! One year my son had a broken thumb during tryouts from doing back handsprings at the gym the week before. Fortunately thumbs aren’t necessary in soccer. I saw quite a few pink and blue casts this week, all arms thankfully. If your child has a major injury or illness (broken leg, torn cartilage, acl tear, spinal meningitis, etc) and can’t tryout, s/he should still show up, talk to the coach if you haven’t already. If he’s a known player to the club, they may still place you on the proper team. If you are new to the club you may be screwed for the year.

Next are the actual tryouts themselves….not much stress for parents IF you’ve followed my instructions in the previous post and gone to the mall (or the gym) each night (or BAR, how on earth did I forget that one?). But for your child, they feel tons of pressure. Every time they touch the ball, good or bad, they want to look to see if the coaches saw it and are writing all about it on their clipboards. Usually it seems every time a kid does something really amazing, the coaches’ backs are turned.

As the week (usually it’s 3 or 4 days) wears on, the kids are split into groups of somewhat equivalent players while the coaches watch them scrimmage, move them around into different positions; and over to different fields. There is nothing more ego-killing than being moved to a lower quality game while the coaches watch the top group. They also will pull some of the newer or ‘bubble’ kids up to the top group to see what they can do against the best. Again, not for the weak hearted. And this kind of maneuvering is a good reason not to ask for any details when the kid gets in the car….he’s still trying to wrap his head around it himself, if he wants to talk about it he will.

Now…back to a perfect example of a past emotional rollercoaster ride to hell and back. The boys (100 of them vying for 64 spots) are told on the last day or the tryouts that the 16 that will make the A-team (top team/best coach/best tournaments/best training that everyone wants) will be called next Tuesday night by 11:00pm. If you don’t get a call on Tuesday, you didn’t make the top team. The rest of you will get a call on the Friday or Saturday after that telling you whether you made a team and if so, which one (the B, C or D). So…..Tuesday night comes and goes (100 boys are on pins and needles, even the most confident boys who’ve always been on the top team) and NO calls are made (but of course they don’t know that). If it was a girls team, they’d be all calling each other and figure it out, but no…..14 year old boys are too cool for that. They all think they didn’t make the top team and are devastated. Calls go out to the top 16 the next day, and they ride to the top of the rollercoasters in their heads. But the damage has been done, they all know that feeling of failure, of not making it, of being 2nd best. Not a bad life lesson actually, but it was a horrible 24 hours for most (and the parents, too).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The scariest ride of the summer: TRYOUTS

This month is tryout season for most competitive (Premier, Classic or Travel) soccer club teams. Thus, it’s the most stressful week of the year for the kids and parents (not to mention the coaches and the club administrators). Most large clubs hold tryouts for 3 to 4 nights and by the end of it, they will place the players on the A, B, or C classic teams and the rest don’t make it at all. The stress of making a team is big, but the stress of which team you make, who made what team, which coach you get and why, can push even the most level-headed, sane parent over the edge.

Ways to limit your stress during tryouts

1) go to the gym or mall, do NOT stand around and watch with the throng of other parents who are watching and commenting on every move, every child makes.
2) Afterward, do not ask your child about any details (you don’t want to know them, trust me), just say "did you have fun?" "Were the coaches nice?" Enough to let your kid know you care, but that’s it.
3) Don’t go walking with any other moms unless it’s your BFF. They claim it’s to get away from the tryout stress, but really you end up talking shit about the other kids/coaches/parents…actually it was pretty fun last night, and I vow to repent and rise above it tomorrow (I hope)
4) Volunteer to help with registration….this keeps you away from the field and from obsessing with your child. It also can potentially get you some really good information if that’s what you need (tryout lists, gossip partners, opportunity to give the kids the wrong numbers and completely screw up the whole thing, etc)
5) Duh….valium
6) Double duh….don’t go……..let your kid ride with a friend

ways to limit your childs stress during tryouts

1) Do not ask your child about any details (they probably don’t want to discuss them with you, she justs want to chill w/music or text messaging or both), just say “id you have fun?” “Were the coaches nice?” Enough to let your kid know you care, but that’s it.
2) Don’t attempt to redirect their tryout stress by adding school stress like I did last night, “How did the math EOG go today?” that was the mistake I made in my minivan last night.
3) If it’s their first high level tryout make sure they are prepared with what to expect the day or so before, make sure they have all their equipment, proper clothes, water bottle, ball, shin guards, etc…normally they should be responsible for this, but I always do a double check for tryouts so she doesn’t freak out over a missing shoe, or having to tryout with no shorts, etc. that we just discovered were not in the bag. Tell him/her the basics, but in a very calm, no big deal manner...stuff like: "Have fun", "Play hard", "don't walk around on the field: run", "don't goof off with your friends today", "make sure your shoes stay tied" "there will be guys watching you with clipboards and pencils, but don't worry about it"
4) If he's a veteran, before the actual tryouts don’t act like this is the big deal that it is… last minute lectures, words of wisdom, advice….he should already know and your stress is just transferring over to him

Ways to stress out the other parents (soooo easy) Just in case a few of you can’t take my advice above to go to the gym and feel the need to create some Drama…

1) Tell an annoying parent that the coach of the B team (or C or D) was just seen talking to her kid,
2) mention that the A team coach had his back turned when said child did something amazing,
3) say nothing, just click your tongue everytime said child touches the ball,
4) start rumors by saying things like “I hear that Coach A likes “insert any adjective here” (short, tall, heavy, wiry, loud, quiet, blonde, brunette, no braces, webbed toes, anything just make it up) players

Don't worry, Tryouts never last more than a week..but the fallout can take all summer to deal with

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Reluctant Participant

Instead of infants, I’d rather discuss kids and sports starting about age 3-4 years when parents are no longer encouraged to join the classes. Yes, I’m sorry but you must start now. We all know if you don’t start them at 3 years of age (not 3 ½), they have already lost the college lacrosse scholarship at a Division 1 university…and a Division 2 school is looking a bit hopeless too….so hurry up, sign up, there’s not much time left, it’s time to lay down the groundwork (begin playing ominous music and the slow, lingering drain of checking account). I’m not saying you have to put your 3 year old in Stanford or Duke University’s 3-week summer, overnight, lacrosse camp for Elite players, but get cracking on the gymnastics and mini-kickers soccer classes. At this age, the kid is able to join groups and be taught without a parent in the group. It’s usually harder for the parent than the child. If you’ve worked them up into a proper frenzy (ie. done a proper preparation) in the last 3 or 4 days, most kids at age 3 barely turn around to wave BYE to mom when they run off to their first karate, soccer, or gymnastics class.
However, about 10% of kids are not interesting in doing anything without mommy and thus in EVERY SINGLE activity/sports group you will see from age 3-8, there is at least one kid clinging to mom and hiding behind her back (often crying) while the coach/teacher starts. Yes, I know this is totally uncomfortable for the coach and mortifying for the parent. You know all the other moms are already hanging out in the lobby having the best hour EVER, drinking Starbucks, and reveling in their supreme ability to spawn and raise perfect, athletic, over-achieving, super-confident children. Try not to worry about this, but, to be honest, that’s exactly what they are thinking…they’re not saying it, but they are thinking it. Now is a good time (while your kid is hanging on your leg and the coach is droning on) to say my Serenity Poem :

God, grant Jimmy confidence to do gymnastics without me next week

And, please give Madison and MacKenzie’s mom some extra crows feet

Now…..Preparation for the first day if you think you might have a Reluctant Participant on your hands.

Sign up with a friend…it doesn’t even have to be his friend, your friend with a similar aged kid will do…it helps the reluctant to go with someone he already knows. If your child is not the one who originally mentioned gymnastics/soccer/ballet/whatever, then, before you sign him up, you should ask him about it and make sure that he does actually want to. If he shows any type of inkling of interest, then go for it. It’s even a good idea to show him how fun it will be by taking him the gym or field with another class in progress before you say anything. Timing here is everything….he’s got to be in the right frame of mind. Playing in the backyard, kicking a ball or doing handstands is a good start, then say….hey, wouldn’t this be fun to do with other kids instead of just me and daddy? About 3 or 4 days before the first day, start mentioning it “ooh, I just remembered, only 3 more days until you get to start gymnastics” “only one more day until you get to play with the kids at karate”, how he reacts to those will give you some good clues on how it will go.

Anyway, being nervous and preferring not to participate at the moment the class starts is totally normal for some kids….how the mom and coach deal with this child at a young age is critical for his future in sports. To the parent, I recommend:

1) have “no worries” attitude,

2) go ahead and go out there with him and hang out with the group, trust me, coaches and teachers are used to it at this age

3) if you already know your child will be insecure, mention it to the coach beforehand

4) during the introductions act like whatever the coach is saying is totally interesting,

5) learn a few of the kids names during the first week so you can talk them up before next week…”guess what Jimmy…tomorrow we are going to get to see Jonathan again, won’t that be awesome!!!”

6) if he’s completely miserable, crying, screaming, hysterical, you may want to reconsider and think about doing it again next season after he’s had more time to become confident with separations and practiced interacting with new people one at a time, then in small groups,

7) you know your child best, often if just takes kids 20 minutes, or one session, or enough time to make a new best friend, so don’t give up unless you know it’s not going to work this time (again….you know your child best). But every time you let him quit in the moment of stress will make it harder the next time.

To the coach I recommend:

1) Have a ‘no worries’ attitude

2) Learn the kids name and talk to him directly a few times, but don’t ask anything that requires an answer…for example you can say “Jimmy over there looks like he already knows how to do a handstand, his arms look really strong” or “Jimmy has brought the right size soccer ball, that’s what we all need next week, a size 3” then move on to another kid.

3) Don’t pressure him to do much, but don’t ignore him either, you could be the hero that gets him going…every once in awhile look over and say “hey, Jimmy want to be Jacobs partner?,your mom can stay”

4) Hold his hand, if he’ll let you.

5) If he’s crying or screaming, just let his mom take care of him.

6) No matter how little he interacts, at the end of the seesion tell him “you did great Jimmy, see you next Sunday”.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Do they make Speedos in size 0-3 months?

We start feeling the peer pressure to enroll our kid in organized activity about age 2-3 months….but it can start earlier if you are a real go-getter. Parent Tot classes are things like: Mommy and Me, Little Gym, and Gymboree groups where the infant and mom do body movement to music, sometimes involving colorful parachutes (why parachutes??? I’ve never figured that one out). Also, there are water familiarization classes at the local pools where a parent and an infant hop into the pool together with a teacher and a few other pairs and gently splash the water and hope the baby likes it. I’ve heard that for some families, water births are planned for the sole purpose of getting ahead of the neighbor kids with regards to the year round swimming and diving teams. It’s hard to dispute your intentions when the birth announcement photo features the new baby wearing $40.00 swim goggles.

I think mom/infant organized activities are great if you are in need or want of company, but really not necessary for your baby at all. Most folks do this stuff at home without even thinking about. On the other hand, if you and your progeny are together all day and you’ve caught yourself asking the diaper genie what he thinks about the democratic candidates views on immigration and then arguing with his views, it actually may be a really great way for your kid to get used to new environments and for you to get out of the house and meet other moms/dads desperately searching outside contact with humans over the age of 4.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

it begins with the first kick.................

It all starts at about 5 months (gestation), you feel that pain in the gut and someone (usually your damn husband) says “wow, I think you’ve got a soccer player in there”. Chances are, he’s right. Nearly every kid, will be involved in youth sports to some degree and if you play your cards right, s/he will reap innumerable benefits including, but not limited to fitness, friendships, confidence and a sports minded lifestyle. Unfortunately, the family unit will be cursed with a few losses, mostly monetary.

This blog is meant to provide a bit of insight to parents everywhere with mini-athletes who need to find the right programs at the right time to make your athlete happy and healthy.

All my kids are and have been involved in organized sports (an oxymoron at the younger ages) and physical activities at every level. I am finally (after years of head scratching, bad decisions, and blind luck) wrapping my head around the ins and outs, the politics, the 47 different routes you can take in each sport, and most of all, the joys of participation. My friends are nearly all parents of little athletes, too, and we are constantly discussing it. Uh oh……this is kind of pathetic, apparently all my other friends dumped me over the years after constantly being away at a tournament in “fill in any major non-fun city” watching my kid kick a soccer ball or jump over a rope for 60 seconds. Hmmm…just noticed that today, rats….must get my life back soon.

My kids have been in soccer, t-ball, , swim team, volleyball, horseback riding, lacrosse, volleyball, Competitive jump roping, track, softball, gymnastics, tumbling, basketball, cross country, ballet, roller hockey, baseball, personal training, and math tutoring (oh wait…..that one might not count).

I’ve mostly survived (so far):

40 seasons of soccer (rec and competitive)
5 years of horseback riding
8 seasons of basketball
6 swim team summers
3 seasons of hockey
5 years of gymnastics and tumbling
4 years of competitive jumprope
3 or less seasons of the rest (volleyball, t-ball, baseball, lacrosse, ballet, track)

Okay, I think I’ve just given away our bias….yes ‘SOCCER is our life’, but it’s never just soccer, there’s always more, more and more.

Now before you go calling social services about my proclivity to torture kids 24 hrs/day or about the crazy cat lady who has unfortunately substituted kids for cats and has 30 kids living in the basement, let me explain. I’ve had a lot of kids (mine, step, and foster, a total of 13) who've played over the years, and I have one particular kid now (mine) who is a sports fanatic; she has wanted to do everything, at every level… with that in mind please put down the phone.