My girls love competitive cheerleading. L-O-V-E it. They love the hard work, the dance, the tumbling, the camaraderie and the competition. I love seeing them happy. As a mom, I want them to have a physical activity they love pursuing. Also, as we enter the teen years, I’m happy to keep them busy because there is nothing worse than a teenager with time on their hands in my opinion.
Competitive sports nowadays though can run into thousands and thousands of dollars and can create financial hardship for many families and yet I talk to parents with kids in every competitive sport (hockey, dance, gymnastics, soccer, cheer,ski) and the story remains the same. The stakes are getting higher and higher and parents are accepting it through gritted teeth so they don’t break their children’s heart.
A lot of professional sports organizations are run for profit, and as a paying customer we get to complain. You wouldn’t let any other business arbitrarily tell you you’re flying somewhere you don’t want to go, buying clothes way out of your budget or dictating what hotel rooms you can book and yet this is the stuff competitive sports are made of. So you know what, owners of for-profit sports organizations, here’s a few things parents would like you to know.
They don’t want to take vacation time with the team. Believe it or not, when parents kick back and dream about how they’ll spend their limited family vacation time, it usually doesn’t involve spending it with twenty other families they barely know. Increasingly though, I am hearing stories of at least one parent needing to book off a full week of their vacation time so they can travel with their child to some far-off destination. Which brings me to my next point.
Stop booking competitions in far-off destinations. Soccer teams heading to Italy for a week? Cheer clubs heading to Texas? Ski teams hitting South America? Who on earth is benefiting from this? Let me be clear to all the for-profit organizations out there. If these trips are nothing more than vanity plates for your organization to place on their website then maybe you should re-consider. Teams should have to earn a spot in competitions that far away. And by earn, I mean win A LOT of local competitions first and if they don’t, they don’t get to go. Simple. Just saying your team traveled to a destination does not make them a good team. Getting yourself to an exotic locale on the backs of hard-working parents is shady.
They don’t want you consulting with their kids. Nope. Go directly to the money source please before you make any decision affecting an athlete. If you need to change anything that will require a schedule change, more money or a bigger commitment go to the parents. See next point.
Stop manipulating kids. Don’t tell Susie you’d like her on another team because she’s so amazingly athletic. Do you know what happens when you do this? Susie goes home to Mom and Dad who are already stretched thin for time and money and Mom and Dad suddenly become the bad guys when they say no. Don’t put us in that position.
School actually does come first. Full stop. As a travel writer I’m a little lackadaisical when it comes to school but I’m an anamoly. I have heard of clubs that start a half hour before school ends and simply expect parents to write a note excusing their kids early from school for a full year. While I’m pretty sure math will secure a kid a job someday, 99% of kids will not financially profit from their extra-curricular sport of choice. This also includes competitions (as mentioned above).
Do not relay important messages through kids. There’s really one simple explanation for this—because THEY ARE NOT RELIABLE. I still have to remind my kids to brush their teeth everyday. Do you really think they’re going to remember to tell me that practice time has changed?
Don’t spend their money recklessly. I recently talked to a parent who was expected to shell out $250 for a gymnastics leotard. I find it hard to believe there were no better options. As this parent pointed out, they’re not being judged on what they’re wearing but rather their ability. Be reasonable when it comes to uniforms.
Let parents opt-out of fundraising. Fundraising is a touchy subject. Many parents appreciate the financial relief and others resent the time they have to spend collecting bottles. I fall in the latter. I’d rather book a root canal then attend a bake sale, but that does not mean I think I should get a piece of the fundraising pie. If you participate zero, you get zero. Give parents the option though.
Give back. Increasingly sports are becoming very elitist; only those with the money can participate. Set up a team for special needs kids that is comprised of volunteer hours and that you don’t profit from. Give spots on teams to kids who have the skill but not the money and help with financial costs.
Stop booking competitions in December. This one is really just mine but December has got to be the busiest month on record for most parents. The holiday season is filled with parties and concerts, gift buying, wrapping and cooking. The last thing any parent who celebrates these things wants to do it remove one whole weekend from the equation for a competition. Seriously, there are eleven, less busy months through the year.
Far too often I have conversations with parents of kids in competitive sports who don’t speak up because they’re afraid of being “that” parent or they fear it will be taken out on their kid. I used to be that parent, until I sat down and calculated what I really spent in a year. The bottom line is this, my pockets are only so deep and my patience is wearing thin.