I recently became an adopted member of a growing society: the parent’s athletic youth travel tournament society. The typical society member is a parent, age 35 to 45 with 2.5 children, who is the proud owner of a Dodge minivan, adorned with stick figure family stickers (including a stick figure pet hamster), at least a dozen folding chairs, a membership to BJs, club packs of gold fish crackers and juice boxes always on hand, and a complete collection of t-shirts representing every ridiculously-named athletic team of which their 10-year old has ever been a member.
If their “Junior Lady Fighting Armadillos” souvenir team t-shirt doesn’t immediately identify them as a part of the society, you can easily find members any weekend morning at a soccer field near you. They’ll be standing on the sidelines with an extra large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in one hand and an iPhone in the other, yelling nonsensical commands to their 10-year old child who is dodging soccer balls on the field. If you have any hesitation as to who’s in and who’s out of the club, look for the highest ranking members. Those are the ones that have three other children, ages 2 through 8, running around them in circles like little, impatient, juice-box-craving satellites circling a moon.
While the society has recently adopted me as one of their own, I’m not a true member on my merits. I don’t have any children of my own, I don’t own Teva Velcro sandals, and I haven’t purchased a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos since I was 14. I’m really more like a seat filler at the Oscar’s. I have, however, spent much of this summer traveling to exciting places like, Oswego, New York, and Stowe, Vermont as an honorary member of a junior high travel lacrosse team. As a sort of outside observer of this fascinating group of individuals, I want to take this opportunity to extend a hand to all new and future members to share the wisdom that I have learned this summer.
Know that you can survive your child’s summer-long athletic travel tournament with grace. You don’t have to lose your dignity spending every weekend of your summer eating Cheez-Its while watching your son or daughter find miraculous ways to get incredibly sweaty and smelly after only 48 seconds of physical activity. There are ways to enjoy yourself without embarrassing any members of your family, but you better be prepared to follow this advice strictly. This is serious advice for serious people. If you are a content member of the parental youth athletic travel tournament society who is looking forward to next weekend’s road trip to Canton, Ohio for three days and 30 hours of Fighting Puffin Softball, this advice is not for you. For the rest of you, put your juice box down and start taking notes.
Tip # 1: Pack light.
Okay troops, we’re starting with the basics. The important things that you need to bring with you on your road trip tour de force are those items that will keep your mini-athlete safe and healthy during his tournament: water, proper athletic gear, medical tape, a dry change of clothes, extra footwear, sunscreen, and nutritious snacks (no that doesn’t mean fruit roll-ups or leftover Chicken McNuggets). Here’s what you don’t need:
A pop-up canopy tent used for collegiate tailgating; and don’t even think about getting one custom made with your son’s team name and logo on it. What are you going to do with a purple and green “Water Rams” canopy tent next summer when your son drops the Water Rams baseball team to join the Lazy Lizards water polo team because that’s what his best friend Liam did?
You do not need to bring your other children their own non-related sporting equipment to play with on the sidelines. Trust me, this is for everyone’s safety. If your son brings a softball to your daughter’s soccer tournament, Murphy’s Law tells us that he will undoubtedly hit the loudest, most viciously verbally abusive parent on the sidelines in the back with said softball. You may as well pluck your daughter right out of the soccer field, throw all your Doritos in your minivan and drive home as fast as you can, because you won’t be showing-up to any more Whirling Sunfish soccer games if you know what’s good for you.
Wagons. Because, no.
Do not bring your tablet and try to use it as a camera. While you’re running up and down the sidelines trying to take photos with a cookie sheet-sized device, you’ll be blocking everyone’s view. Leave it at home. For only $67.99 you can buy a DVD of all of the footage of the Flying Squirrel’s lacrosse season, and for only $19.99 more, you can also have a laminated 24 x 20 framed team photo. What else could you possibly need to remember their successful 2 – 46 season?
Tip # 2: Learn the fundamentals of your child’s sport
You don’t have to love that your daughter chose softball, but you should make an attempt to learn the basic premise of the game. You won’t make friends with any of the other parents if you’re the one clapping at the wrong times, yelling at the referees when they make calls in favor of your team, yelling for everyone to pass your kid the ball when he’s on defense, or cheering proudly for your child when she just cost the team the game.
Tip # 3: If You must cheer, be considerate of those around you
I’m not going to try to convince you to just stand quietly and watch the game and then tell your son or daughter one on one later what they did well and how they can improve. Don’t get me wrong, that’s what you should do, but you won’t listen to me, so I’m going to be realistic instead. Just try to follow these rules:
Don’t be the loudest one out there. If you’re straight-up screaming high pitched nonsensical words like a crazed teenager at a One Direction concert (“WHOOO! I LOVE YOU HUNTER!”) you will have people like me plotting your untimely early dismissal from the tournament.
Don’t yell “Great job sweetie!” when your child errs (see Tip #2).
Don’t yell at the referees. They don’t want to be there either, and it’s not their fault your kid kicked the ball out of bounds. Their just being honest.
Know which kid is yours. When Ethan scores and you yell “Great job Pratt!” Ethan’s mom is going to send you a strongly worded in-box message on the team Facebook page, and she won’t share any of her graham crackers with you at next weekends tournament in Duluth, North Dakota.
Don’t berate your child. He’s only 7, and this is his first season playing lacrosse. Screaming at the top of your lungs that he’s stupid and lazy is cruel and abusive and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Finally, if you named your child something ridiculous, like America, Genesis, Braylon, or Phoenix, please re-consider my early advice and just stay quiet. No one wants to listen to you yell “Go Serenity!” for 5 hours as they bake in the heat while dodging foul balls.
Tip # 4: Root for your team to lose
Wow, that sounds so awful. It’s so critical though, so I’m going to repeat it to make sure you write it down. Pray to whatever God, spirit animal, or power that you believe in that the Fighting Diver Scallops lose. Teams that win stay until 7:00 pm on Sunday. Teams that lose get to go home at 9:00 am on Sunday instead. If you stay until 7:00 pm on Sunday, you’ll still be driving home from Lancaster, Pennsylvania at midnight with your 2.5 kids sleeping in the back of your minivan, which now smells like a dead seal thanks to the stinky sporting equipment on board, and your boss will be unamused when you’re sleeping at your desk Monday morning.
Tip # 5: Enjoy the special little moments
I did promise you that you could actually enjoy yourself at these tournaments, and you can. Remember why you’re attending the weekend’s events in the first place. It’s not to give the rest of your children an excuse to get off of the Wii for the weekend, it’s not to rack-up Holiday Inn Express points, and it’s certainly not to try to relive your glory days as a member of the Blue Flamingos vicariously through your son. You’re there to support your child. His sporting activities should be a way for him to build confidence, be active, and learn the importance of teamwork. Your role is to nurture and encourage all of these important life skills.
Enjoy the moment when your daughter finally connects with the tee ball after innings of misses and know that her improvement is building her confidence. Smile when you see your son put his arm around the goalie to console him after the team’s loss, and know that some day, he’ll know just what to say to a friend when times get tough. Most importantly, enjoy the moment when you pull into your driveway, open your minivan door, and after all of the toddlers, soccer balls, Cheetos and sweaty socks fall out, your son turns to you with a smile, and says “Thanks.”
Then get to work washing those sweaty clothes because they wreak like a hippie at a Phish concert and you’re team is scrimmaging against the Road Mimes on Wednesday.