My kids are not athletically inclined; coordination, finesse, grace… not traits they inherited (at least not from me). They don’t appreciate a physical challenge, and they avoid exertion whenever they can. Still, I love watching and playing sports, and I would love to watch my boys play in high school games someday… but for now, unorganized sports is as good as it gets.
Forming a Family Team allowed us the flexibility we didn’t have with organized sports.
Last fall, my sister suggested getting together once a week after school to play an “unorganized sport” with just our kids. Between her school-aged kids and mine, we have five boys and a girl that we take to the park for practice. Our dad loved playing various sports with us before ALS got ahold of him, so borrowing his equipment (not to mention all the balls he has bought the boys throughout the years) keeps our equipment costs down. I packed up an old sports bag with the current sport’s equipment and added a tag that reminds us to pack our water, hats, and sunblock. We started out with baseball, moved on to flag football, and now are starting basketball practice in honor of the NBA playoffs.
Organized sports was a fun family activity when we only had a few children in the household.
Our eldest played baseball and soccer on a team when he was between 6 and 9 years old. His baseball team won 1st place in Little League with him inspecting the outfield’s ant piles (“You’re killing me, Smalls!”). The two girls came along and when they were old enough, we put the three of them in Martial Arts; even my husband and I joined in for a few months. Alas, the demands on our time and resources made it impossible to continue once my new pregnancy advanced into the third trimester.
Much later, Number 2 decided to try out for the middle school volleyball team because volleyball looked fun to play. She was totally shocked and devastated when she didn’t make the team. We learned that the girls that made the 6th grade team had already been playing for years on organized community youth teams, and that the school’s team was actually extremely competitive.
Now We Know
Armed with this lesson learned, I decided that my boys needed to be on a football team ASAP so that they could make the competitive middle school teams. We signed our boys up on an organized football team for a couple of years. Unfortunately, the cost was high: dues for uniforms, equipment, fundraising, etc. The demands on our time was even higher (especially with the different age groups having practice and/or games at different times). It was an enjoyable experience for the most part, but the financial cost wasn’t worth the “rewards” of watching these three boys chase butterflies around the field during football games.
We’ve gone from scheduling our children’s competitive lives to finding ways to encourage them to take on team challenges.
Now, during family practice, we start out with drills; I printed out a short list of Good ol’ Google’s ideas for exercises, and stuck it in a clipboard. We move on to scrimmaging (playing mini-games) after splitting into teams. [Sample PDF of our Drills Log] Of course, we take water breaks and teach the rules of the unorganized sport as we go along.
Weekly Practice for Unorganized Sports
We encourage cooperation during the 15-20 minutes of warm-up and drills by keeping track of the number of times the action is completed by the child in the allotted time. For example: The number of push-ups completed in a minute, or the number of partner passes completed (minus ball drops) in a minute. Natural competiveness encourages the kids to do their best, and work cooperatively when doing partner drills.
Team Captains are chosen according to the best performances during drills. Captains pick the people they want on their scrimmage teams. They used to be allowed to name their teams as well… but that didn’t work out. Us moms and dads split ourselves between coaching, refereeing, and playing. Referees get the additional responsibility of holding the baby and corralling the smaller kids.
When we first started our unorganized sports practice, it was a grueling countdown to 60 minutes. The boys would bicker and laugh at every mistake made by another player. We had to repeatedly stress the fact that they were all on the same team, and that they should be helping their team get better, not making themselves feel better by putting others down. The practices have stretched a little longer (without complaining) since the kids have gotten used to the routine and more comfortable with their budding skills. We’ve found that rewarding the best team player (in our individual family) with the privilege of choosing the family movie has improved attitudes as well.
Go Team Family!
Since becoming the parents of five kids, we’ve heard a lot of comments to the effect of “You have your own basketball team!” Well, we did (and do), but the difference in ages makes practices a challenge. We have to pair up the kids with their brothers/cousins that are closest in age and modify occasionally for the smaller ones. The much smaller kids (five years old and younger) run around and entertain themselves with extra practice equipment. Periodically, our other sister will bring her little girls and include all the little ones in their soccer practices. Our unorganized sports, like so many other activities in our days, has become an activity brought to life by la familia.