It’s the most fun you’ll ever have as a mom or dad. It’s time to get little Johnny/Jenny and put them out on the soccer field! You have visions of grandeur as you watch your tiny munchkin boot the ball down the field and kick it into (his or her own) net. You get to watch, and you get to cheer them on; you’re every bit a part of this extravaganza. They’ll be your little superstar and you’ll love every minute of it.
Reality check, hot shot. You have a toddler and there’s just no sense in making this into something it’s not. It’s going to be a disaster at times and you’re just going to have to get ready for that. With that in mind, here’s how not to do sports with your toddler:
1. Expect the Schedule to be Followed
By the time you’re enrolling your child in organized sports, you should realize that there’s really no chance that you’ll be following any kind of a schedule that isn’t entitled “whatever my toddler decides”. The first time you think the schedule is safe is the time they fall asleep on you just as you pull up to the game. It’s the time they have an accident, it’s the time they scream until you take them home, it’s the time you forget their food, stuffed animal, shoes, milk, monster truck, or that item they stole from your home that you never knew they had.
Whatever it is, they’ll find a reason to miss the scheduled game time. You’ll likely be embarrassed, but you won’t be the only one! Relax, honey.
2. Expect Your Toddler to Actually Understand
Bahhhhh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, you’re serious! Let me laugh even harder….
But seriously, while I know your child is a genius and all, I’m 100% sure they won’t know what’s going on the first, second, third, or fifteenth time they’re playing. If it’s soccer your toddler is playing, they’ll put the ball in their own net. If it’s T-ball, they’ll pick their nose and hope no one is watching. If it’s hockey, they’ll use their stick like a javelin. If it’s bowling, I didn’t know that even existed and you live in another dimension. If it’s rugby…you have issues (although it seems many do).
If you can get them to participate at all and start to understand even a little about what they’re doing by the end of the first season, you’re doing great. That’s especially true when you think about our next thing not to do.
3. Expect Your Toddler to Want To Play Said Sport
“Hey mom! Hey dad! Look, a playground! Did you know they have a playground here? Why are we standing around in this field with everyone looking at me? I’d rather be on those swings! Come on!”
Need I say more? I’m going to anyways.
Even if you make it to the sporting event on time, and even if your child understands what sport they’re playing and how it’s played, they likely don’t want to play when you want them to play. Now, as a parent, you get one choice here. Fight it and lose, or let it happen and feel like a failure. It’s a great time!
Seriously though, if I can offer any advice for those of you embarking on the wonderful world of organized sports, it’s that you should prepare your toddler with 3 separate conversations about how fun it will be when they play X sport. You should speak with them about how great this will be even as you drive/walk to the event, and you should still expect a 50% chance that they’d rather be doing something else.
4. Expect Good Behavior
There’s just something about 10-20 children getting together that really sets off the average child. They just can’t seem to hold back from really losing their cool during the game and attacking some other unsuspecting 3 year old just because they’re there (I had to think about my there’s, there).
If you’ve ever been around a group of toddlers when one of them is behaving like the ole boot they are, then you know all of the other toddlers watching are coming up with their own ideas. You get mimics, and you get kids who just want to try new things. These little aggressive outbursts are fun to watch, right up to the point where your child is one of the little punks kicking the ball in little Matilda’s hands as she screams for her mother to save her from her untimely end. You might get lucky for a little while and have your little terror just watch, but don’t expect him/her to remain on the sidelines of that assault for long. They will just join in as soon as they think they can get away with it.
Now, when they do lose it and become part of the merciless mob of madness, simply let the coach handle it (kidding). Which brings me to my next point….
5. Leave Everything to the Coach
Don’t you dare sit on the sideline like a lump on a log! Your coach(es) have taken the time to teach your toddler and will be trying their (collective) best to ensure no one gets hurt, upset, or leaves without a sticker. Your toddler is better for having someone there to guide them in these first years, and you better appreciate it.
In case you haven’t noticed, toddlers are pretty tough to handle 1 on 1. Now, imagine not knowing any of them and then having to handle them 1 on 15 with 30 rabid parents watching…. I’ll wait right here while you stick yourself in that situation.
Got it? Good.
Get out there and help when you see the situation going awry. If you see 30 toddlers chasing a ball towards a wall, get up off your butt and chase them to bring just a few back. The herd will return if a few people are chasing and telling them to come back, but it’s not likely anyone will be stopping if it’s one lone coach chasing and screaming.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. I have literally already experienced just about everything in this post, and hope that you will too! Why do I hope that, because then your experience with toddlers in sports will be complete. Each and every thing in this post furthers your love for your child and your love for participating with them in sports…even the screaming.
There’s one final point I’d like to make before signing off.
6. Don’t be THAT guy/girl
Don’t be the intense parent who thinks your child needs to be the next Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Babe Ruth, or Pelé. Your toddler definitely won’t grow up to be that if you make it miserable for everyone. They need breaks, they need to have variety in their life, and they especially need you to just make it fun. Anything else is just going to cause problems.
Until next time, stay classy.