Your friends without kids don’t get it. Most of your friends with kids don’t get it. Your family is heading to Maryland after work on Friday night. Because your 12-year-old is in a baseball tournament.
“How many games will they play?”
At least three. More likely four, possibly five, with an outside chance for six. And the sixth game wouldn’t start until 6 o’clock on Sunday. And then you’ll drive home.
“Are you guys going to do any sightseeing?”
Probably go to a Washington Capital’s game with the team.
“So you are going to seven baseball games this weekend?”
Only if we’re lucky.
“The White House? The Museum of Natural History? The Capitol?”
We’re staying at a Courtyard by Marriott. In the suburbs. So, probably not.
“What is your younger child going to do?”
He’s going to watch a lot of baseball games. He might help keep score for some of the games. At the hotel, he will play baseball in the hallways with the boys until the hotel manager threatens to kick us out.
“Well,” says your friend. “Enjoy.”
Are you the parent of a young athlete on a club or select sports team? Then you may have already had this chat. Want to know why people think you’re crazy for driving 12 hours to watch seven baseball games? Because it is crazy. But you can rationalize it. Some families do this every weekend. Those people are crazy. We’re just doing it three or four times a year. Your family can survive that. In fact, it can even bring everyone a little closer. And it will make great memories for your little athlete.
Here are six tips for surviving the youth sports trip.
REMEMBER, IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Your friends are at home playing golf, perfecting briskets, tossing frisbees in the backyard by the barbecue. So, who are these people clutching cans of beer at the hotel pool at 10 o’clock? You have nothing in common with them. You were thrown together because your kids play a game. They are liberals, conservatives, fundamentalists, atheists, doctors, construction workers. Get to know them and learn to love them because you signed up for this. These are your friends now. They love your kid. They encourage him. They believe in him. They make him feel good. That makes them your friends.
REMEMBER, IT’S NOT ABOUT WINNING
The kid on the mound for the New Jersey Devils is pitching like he’s double-parked. He probably drove the team here. No way is he 12 years old. He is 6 foot 3. Look at my kid holding the runner on at second base. He comes up to the other kid’s shoulder blade. Something about going south. Everything is just bigger. And it’s the same when you head north for hockey. No matter how good your team is, they won’t win every game. They aren’t going to win this game. Ouch, mercy rule in effect in the fourth inning. The final score in 11-3.
You say, “That was a good team, but your team is good, too. You didn’t give them anything. They just hit the ball hard.”
And, “The best baseball teams don’t win every day.”
And, “We’ll get ’em tomorrow.”
And, “We have the rest of the day free. Who is up for mini golf?”
LIMIT YOUR ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
For your 12-year-old to do his best, you have to do your best. Your player needs a good breakfast in the morning, and he needs to get to the field on time. He needs to be hydrated, he needs to have his mind clear. His sleep number has to be determined and entered.
If he’s crabby, or hungry, or dehydrated, too fatigued from synchronized diving, or kicking himself after an error, he’s going to play poorly. Problems spin out of control when you’re in a hotel room instead of home. And even though this is about relationships – and everyone loves your kid – if your kid is not playing well, that’s going to put some stress on those relationships. The players and their siblings need to be supervised. The hotel manager is not thrilled about the game of hotbox underway in the sixth floor hallway.
What this means is, don’t drink too much.
Saying no to that fourth drink is a good idea, and saying no the third drink is an even better idea.
Have you tried the pulled pork on nachos?
But what’s the plan for making sure your athlete and his siblings are nourished for the rest of the day? Seasoned coaches and team managers know to book hotels that offer hot breakfast.
Breakfast at the hotel can be the best time of the day for making sure members of your family and your team get a healthful meal. Some yogurt, some berries, some whole-grain bread, poached eggs, bacon and 10 ounces of milk should provide your player with more than enough energy for the day. And it will make you less likely to sneak over to the concession stand during the tournament to fill up on nachos or burgers.
Some sports parks have rules against bringing food inside because they want you to buy the food at their concession stands. If you are going to be there for six to eight hours on any given day, you need to break that rule and sneak some better food in. Fill up a small cooler with fruit. Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, apples, oranges. Bananas for potassium. And some cold chocolate milk. When your player asks for nachos, hand him an apple instead. Point to the other team and say, “They’re filling up on garbage right now, and it will show. You’re eating food that will keep you hydrated and provide energy.”
You can forget about monitoring nutrition at dinner. The adults tend to sit together at one table and the kids at a separate table. You don’t know what they’ve ordered and you don’t want to. Your job is done.
REMEMBER THE YOUNGER SIBLING
The younger sibling is getting a raw deal this weekend.
This is about forging relationships with your older child’s teammates’ families. This is about your older child gaining confidence. Just embrace it. The whole weekend is about your older child. You can spin this. This weekend is about this family celebrating the talents of the elder child. We’ll support him and his teammates together, as a family. Because that’s what families do.
Sounds better, right?
Teams that function well have everyone pitching in to do jobs. Some parents handle dinner reservations, others set up shade tents or keep the scorebook. Siblings can have roles, too. Some teams use younger siblings as bat boys or girls. Keeping score is a great way to keep a younger child engaged in the game – and sitting at your side instead of roaming around looking for trouble. If your younger child is feeling sad about being dragged halfway across the country for his older sibling’s sports tournament, offer this chestnut:
Your day will come. And all this glory will be yours.
PLAN AN EXTRA DAY
You’ve already made the trip. Why rush home on Sunday night? Why not see what your destination has to offer besides baseball fields? For just one more hotel night – and, likely, a personal day from work – you can turn this into a fun family vacation. Better to tack the extra day on after the tournament rather than before. That way, your athlete can focus on the family time instead of stressing out about the games.
And you can brag to your friend – the one who can’t understand why you travel for youth sports – about how you DID manage to find time for non-baseball activities.