Tuesday, 24 December 2013

3 Things to Rember When Your Kids' Sports Come Between Your Family and the Outdoors

There are many benefits to kids playing organized sports. They learn teamwork, discipline and how to operate within the defined framework of rules. They develop their fine and gross motor skills, get active, and build confidence and self-esteem. Organized sports can be a lot of fun, too.

There are also many benefits to taking your kids hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and an endless number of other outdoor activities. They learn self-reliance and reliance on the group. They learn through unstructured experience. They develop their fine and gross motor skills, get active, and build confidence and self-esteem. They also develop a relationship with the outdoors and the environment that connects them to the world around them, and that can ground them in hard times and good. It's fun. I could go on, but you get the idea.

As an outdoor dad and a soccer coach dad to my two amazing sons, I can personally attest to how hard it can be to balance the organized and the outdoors. Organized sports, exactly because they are organized and scheduled, all too easily take priority. Especially when you're the coach. And when one of your sons plays on Saturdays and the other plays on Sundays. A game at 1 p.m. on Saturday and another at 11 a.m. on Sunday makes it difficult to drive an hour or more to the mountains, get in enough hiking or snowshoeing to make it feel worthwhile, and drive home.

At my older son's last indoor soccer practice before Christmas, we had a parents vs kids game (the 12- and 13-year-olds let themselves get tied by a bunch of old men). Afterwards, a few of us dads got talking about how being a soccer parent changes your life. They know I take my boys out to the mountains a lot, and asked how I balance that with practices and games three days a week. I'm not sure I gave them a very good answer at the time, but it got me thinking. How do I balance the outdoors with organized sports? These are the three things I came up with and that I have to consciously remember to remember:

1. The drive is worthwhile

Even a couple hours in the mountains is worth the drive. Just like I can see the pride in my sons' faces after a good game, I can see how at ease and relaxed they are after a couple hours in the mountains. Just as importantly, I can feel how my own batteries are recharged.

2. You don't always have to drive far to get your kids out

I'm willing to drive a little further to get away from the more crowded and popular trails closer to the city. In Kananaskis and Banff, the further you drive, the more snow you find in the winter, as well. But if we've only got a few hours after a game, there are plenty of good trails 30 to 45 minutes away in West Bragg Creek, the Elbow Valley, the Bow Valley and the Kananaskis Valley. My boys and I have had as much fun snowshoeing down a snowless-but-frozen Canyon Creek in Elbow Valley as we have floating on a meter of fluffy powder another hour's drive west in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

3. Take what you can get, when you can get it

Some days, even that 45-minute drive to West Bragg Creek to snowshoe just isn't possible. But a quick and fun snowshoe or walk up Nose Hill, a five minute drive from my house, is. On those days, I have to remind myself to take what I can get. Calgary is fortunate to have a wealth of large urban nature parks to play in, as well as a river pathway system that provides lots of opportunities to play in nature. Even taking the dog to an off-leash park like Edworthy, with its trails through the aspens and ravines, provides a solid dose of Vitamin N when soccer makes a trip to the mountains impossible.

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