How to Survive Your Kid’s Sports Season – The New York Times

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We’ve updated the text so that it applies to all seasons, including recommendations that will help make chilly late-autumn games more comfortable.
Joanne Chen
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My son plays travel baseball, and I’m glad he does. Competition nurtures resilience, and I love seeing him jump with sheer joy whenever a teammate crosses home plate. But here’s what I don’t love: the hours of my life lost each week taking him to practice and games (easily eight), and the guilt I (kind of) feel about making my husband go alone. When I do show up, I’m either too hot or too cold, and I feel silly shouting things like “Nice cut!” Turns out, though, there’s a better way. If you signed your kid up for sports this season, try these expert strategies for making the whole experience a little more comfortable and a lot more meaningful.
Dress strategically: It’s not enough to ask Alexa what the weather is like “right now.” You must get the lowdown for two, four, and, with doubleheaders, six hours from now.  “The games are long and the weather can change,” said Matthew Panikkar, director of soccer at Yorkville Youth Athletic Association in New York City. Throw extra layers and other seasonal necessities such as a blanket, umbrella, gloves, bug spray, and sunblock (more on that later) into a big bag; you can always leave it in the car. (Wirecutter’s pick,  the water-resistant Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, sports ripstop fabric, a padded base and removable shoulder and backpack straps, and comes in various sizes.) In late fall and early spring, you’ll also want a versatile coat, preferably a hooded, waterproof one that can stand up to spilled coffee and the various things you’ll be slinging onto your shoulder. I have my eye on the Eddie Bauer Girl on the Go Trench Coat. It’s a Wirecutter rec that has a removable insulated lining and hood, and fleece-lined pockets.
Don’t skimp on shades: A good pair doesn’t just block out the sun—it also makes the game easier to see. Brett Klika, founder of SPIDERfit Kids, an online kids-fitness resource, in San Diego, used to wear his everyday sunglasses for his 6-year-old daughter’s soccer games, but when he wore his sports glasses one day, he found himself squinting less. Why? They were both UV protectant and polarized—and that means they provide more contrast and less glare, explained Rahul Khurana, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. (Wirecutter’s favorite pair, the J&S Premium Sunglasses, is sturdy yet under $20.) PSA: Put sports eyewear on your kids, too, to protect their eyes from sun and injuries, said Khurana, who’s also a dad of a basketball player. (The American Academy of Ophthalmology has recommendations for each sport.)
Embrace hats and functional gloves: Joel Cohen, MD, an American Academy of Dermatology spokesperson in the Denver area, typically wears a baseball cap to his daughters’ soccer games, but on scorching late-spring or early fall days, he replaces it with the wide-brim hat he keeps tucked into his cargo-pants pockets. (Wirecutter’s sun-hat pick, the Columbia Bora Bora II Booney, is also breathable.) When winter comes early,  I depend on a no-nonsense knit-wool hat, which I pull over my ears, and warm gloves because, after all, you can’t applaud your kid’s home run with your hands in your pockets. (Wirecutter likes the inexpensive GliderGloves Urban Style Touchscreen Gloves, which protect against the late-autumn chill while letting you easily text the grandparents about said homerun.)
Invest in a folding camp chair: My husband refers to his Coleman Oversized Quad Chair as his throne, but what I really want is a seat with built-in shade, which also shields you from rain. “Look for straps—because you might not find parking near the field,” Klika said. (Wirecutter’s upgrade pick, the Renetto Original Canopy Chair, was always ‘“the first seat snagged” during group testing.)
BYO food and beverages: The hot dog at the snack stand is never as good as the idea of it. Consider a rolling cooler (again, parking) for long afternoons. For short games, a soft, sling-on-your-shoulder model—like Wirecutter’s pick, the AO Canvas Series 24-Pack Soft Cooler—might do. Klika throws in pita bread, hummus, and deli meats so he doesn’t even have to make sandwiches in the morning (on hot days, the ice packs feel refreshing on the face, too). PB&J, nuts, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and sweet potatoes will also feed you and your kid without weighing you down. Don’t forget filled water bottles! (Wirecutter recommends the Hydro Flask 21oz Standard Mouth.)
Employ ninja sunblock tricks: Apply sunblock every two hours, even on cloudy or cold days. Kids often push back, but they’re more apt to put it on if they see you put it on yourself, said Cohen. He recommends using physical sunblock with zinc or titanium dioxide, which, unlike the chemical kind, blocks both UVA and UVB and works immediately. (Wirecutter’s also-great pick, CVS Health Clear Zinc Sun Lotion SPF 50, is a water-resistant physical-chemical combo formula and rubs in more easily than the competition.) You’re less likely to miss spots with a lotion, so start the day with a generous layer of it and reserve sticks and sprays for between-game reapplications that older kids can do themselves. Remember to use zinc lip protection, too.
Pay attention: Before I started writing this story, I’d bring a laptop to games. I don’t anymore. The expert consensus is that you don’t have to be at every game, but when you’re there, you should “be present,” said Rebecca Rialon Berry, PhD, psychologist at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center. “Minimize side conversations and tech use.” However, if you’re going crazy by the third inning of the second game (because you’re human), Klika suggests listening to podcasts or audiobooks—this way, you can still keep an eye on what’s going on. (Wirecutter’s true-wireless earbuds pick, the Jabra Elite 65t, lets you hear both your podcast and the game.)
Be chill: Cheer the effort (“Way to hustle!”), not just the outcome (“Great catch!”), said Gregory Chertok, an NYC sports psychology consultant at Telos Sport Psychology Coaching. Putting weight on something kids can’t control can lead to anxiety—for everyone. Also: Let coaches coach and refs ref. Yelling instructions from the sidelines can confuse your child. “Mistakes will be made,” said Jack Wayland, head coach with Wise VA Rush Soccer, but you should let them go. You’re embarrassing your child otherwise, according to a 2011 study published in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. Kids also mimic your behavior. So encourage good plays, even on the other team, and as Wayland said, “If you’re not staying positive, then stay in the car.”
Don’t forget siblings: Small tents (Wirecutter likes the Lightspeed Outdoors Seaside Pop-Up Shelter Tent) furnished with toys give tots a place to play. Klika also suggests bringing baseballs and gloves to baseball games, soccer balls to soccer games—small kids love doing what their big sibs are doing.
Know the only two things you should say after the game: “Did you have fun?” and “I loved watching you play.” That’s what’s important to kids of every age, but especially in elementary school, said Klika. If your child has a bad game, the worst time to discuss it is right afterward. Let them take the lead. Chertok suggests asking kids how they would have handled it differently, allowing them to formulate insights. Berry, who played basketball through her teens, noted, “Unless your child asks specifically for coaching from you, listening and providing emotional support and validation for their hard work is often enough.”
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Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).
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