Your child's coach
Here's what parents ask (or wonder silently) as they sign their young children up for sports. After eight seasons as a U-6 soccer coach, I can offer these answers:
Q. Will my child be any good at it?
A. No one knows from one season to the next. Kids grow, kids gain weight and lose some, they get excited about a sport, they lose interest, they pick it up again. It shouldn't matter if your child is a star or a scrub. If he enjoys it, if he even tolerates it, encourage him. If your daughter prefers dance to a field sport, by all means let her dance. Some of the best athletes I have seen are former dancers. This is good for your child, and you risk discouraging him if you get hung up on the results. Say "I'm proud of you" each time your child steps off the field, no matter what he did or did not do. He is always better off outside, working up a sweat, than at home with his Xbox.
Q. How much will this cost me? Really?
A. There's the team snack when it is your week, the picnic, the coach's gift, the professional picture. On the picture you'll have options; choose a cheaper one and gussy it up with a $2 frame from Wal-Mart. I found the biggest hidden costs in dance. Recital fees and costumes can run higher than the lessons! In field sports, you can save a bundle on gear. Again: Wal-Mart for everything except shoes. I find the cheapest shoes at Payless. It's crazy to spend more than $10 when your child will outgrow them by next season. If you really want to save money (or if your child has a wide foot), they sell used shoes at Play It Again Sports.
Q. Will my child get hurt?
A. I've had three injuries on my team, again, in eight seasons. Julian broke his collarbone at school when a heavier child fell on top of him. Albert fell off his bike at home and broke his leg. Austin fell out of a tree and twisted his ankle on a night when my assistant was running practice. Weighing nothing, Austin kept playing and improved his ball-handling skills by using other parts of his foot. When I'm there, no climbing trees and no wandering by the lake. I think children are generally safer at sports practice than anywhere else. They get their bumps and bruises, so keep ice on hand. But they bounce back quickly.
The key is supervision. As a parent, you should either stay at the field or make sure another parent is there in case your child wanders off, needs the bathroom, etc. You can switch off; one parent stays on Tuesday, one parent stays on Thursday. Full disclosure: My daughter got a nasty bone bruise in a U-12 game, and it took months to recover. There are risks to everything; a friend's son lost part of his finger when a door slammed at church! When you weigh the risk of injury against the health risk of not playing a sport, I'll take sports. And say my prayers.
-- Marlene Sokol, Times mom