Juggling Youth Sports How a Sports-Minded Family with Four Children Handles Competing Activities
Ross Atkin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Russell and Denise Garlick have four children, ages 11 to 20. Each attends a different school, and all are really into sports. Like many American families, they are on the go constantly. A phone call to their home in the Boston suburb of Needham, Mass., often is answered by a recorded message.
For all their running around (via cars, carpools, and bikes) to games and practices, though, the Garlicks are careful not to let organized team sports rule their lives, as sometimes happens in other households.
During a Saturday morning conversation around their dining-room table, the Garlicks talk about the challenges of trying to keep it all in perspective. Mrs. Garlick, a registered nurse, is sensitive to not having her family placed on any kind of pedestal. "I don't want to make it sound like we're doing everything right, because sometimes it's great and sometimes it all falls apart." Still, there's much that merits attention here. Take the weekly planning meeting. "Every Sunday after dinner we have a family meeting," says Mrs. Garlick, reaching for a large ring binder used to log each child's activities. It contains schedules for sports, music lessons, and Boy Scouts; notices about school activities; team rosters and phone numbers. Each child has a section. "Everybody takes a turn in running the meeting and the first thing we do is compliment each other on something that happened during the past week," Mrs. Garlick explains. After that, Andy (age 11, soccer, baseball, and basketball), Alex (13, football, baseball, and basketball), Beth (17, Special Olympics bowling and Challenger basketball and baseball), and Monica (20, running, Ultimate Frisbee, and helping coach a soccer team) review what's coming, including letting Mom know what school materials are needed. "This helps to get in their heads what they have going during the week," Mrs. Garlick says, "plus it helps them understand what else is going on in the family." Furthermore, says Mr. Garlick, a research chemist, it allows the family to prioritize. "If we see that sports is going to take up the whole week," he notes, "we ask, 'What's wrong with this picture?' If we've got Boy Scouts Monday night, we've got to get home from practice early. It's good to see the whole week at one meeting as opposed to a piece at a time." The Garlicks are active in scouting and work to fit in camp outs and Cub Scout and Boy Scout meetings. Mr. Garlick, in fact, served as Cubmaster to a 90-boy pack for several years and remains a den leader. Being a leader, he explains, is an advantage because he can arrange a schedule that fits with his family's. "Sports is just one part of our life," he notes. "We have our family, sports, education, and scouts and church. We don't not do one for the other. We have to make some compromises." If there's a tournament on Sunday morning, the Garlicks may skip church. "It's hard for them to participate in a weekend-long tournament if they play Saturday and not Sunday," Mr. Garlick says. "To really make a commitment to the team you have to make that compromise. That's not bad once a season." To be sure, there are some pretty tough decisions to be made weekly when activities are in conflict. Ultimately the children make most of these on their own, with input from their parents, who may try to sway them if one child appears too overloaded with one activity. A longstanding family rule helps with this balancing act: a single sport per child per season. "It's hard," Mrs. Garlick says, "because you're asking a little person, who's 9 or 10, to choose a sport." The parents, though, say this makes sense for two reasons: It doesn't overtax the family support structure and it encourages the youngster to become a full-fledged member of a team. Some youngsters are hard-pressed to achieve the latter as they split time between soccer and baseball in the spring or between basketball and hockey in the winter. …