I have a very clear memory of my mom discovering her winter boots leaked one cold and wet November afternoon, right before my soccer game kicked off. At half time, she proudly showed me her clever fix for ensuring her feet stayed dry. Rather than leave the sidelines, Mom had donned plastic bag “socks” and was back in action, cheering and shouting for my teammates and I. We won that game, 4-1.
My mom’s dedication to my soccer (and later, field hockey) was constant. She drove, volunteered with the organizations I played for, and scrimped and saved so that I could play sports. In return? She got to stand on sidelines in horrible weather, with her feet in plastic bags just to shout “GO!”
Nowadays, she jokes that she wishes I had opted for indoor or summer sports. “In all seriousness, I really enjoyed being a part of your sports,” she recalls. “I wanted to support you in something you loved.”
Fraser Health’s evidence- based Live 5-2-1-0 has a simple and clear message for healthy kids. It has four basic guidelines: at least five servings of vegetables and fruits every day, no more than two hours of screen time, at least one hour of activity, and zero sugary drinks daily.
Seems pretty common sense and doable, right? But there are challenges in reality that don’t exist on paper. The two most frequently cited barriers to participation in organized activities and sports are the financial cost and the time commitment.
Programs like KidSport or JumpStart help families who are experiencing financial barriers. As well, some organized sports are extremely affordable at the recreation level. Soccer, for example, is great value – it has a very low purchase price for initial equipment and is a very long season. As well, for recreation programs offered by New Westminster Parks & Recreation, Fraserside Community Services can assist with subsidies.
But with a time-poor society, are parents making sacrifices in their lives just to get that hour of exercise in? I spoke to a number of moms about keeping their kids active. The reality is that often moms manage the family calendar, though all that I spoke to credited their friends and family with pitching in to make it work.
Lone parents in particular face challenges. Autumn Compton is a working single mother who considers her two kids (8 and 3) as very active despite not currently being in an organized sport, though her oldest has tried a few. “They spent a lot of time at the park every day – rain or shine – and play imaginative, physical games at school,” she says. “If they asked, I’d make it work, but as they get older, it will be a challenge to manage both their sports schedules, and make sure dinners get made and the laundry gets done without a teammate at home.”
Cheryl Greenhalgh, a mom to two teenagers, remembers lacrosse dominating her and her spouse’s life for years. “At times we changed vacation plans due to Provincials, we took days off work, and donated hours of volunteer time – probably eight to nine years worth of time. My biggest pet peeve was the loss of family dinner time.”
But it was all done happily, Greenhalgh notes. “We love to give our kids opportunities to explore different activities. My husband’s parents did not put him into any sports – he feels like he missed out. Plus, our years of lacrosse involvement definitely helped us feel more connected in New West.”
Mona Boucher says she has a complicated relationship with sports, and wonders how to overcome that with her daughter. “As a kid, I was fit enough, but wasn’t very coordinated. Any type of organized sport was a challenge for me and failure was something I didn’t encounter in other aspects of my life,” she says. “My husband has a radically different attitude towards sports. He enjoys it and it is part of his identity. So I dig deep and try to keep my complaining at a minimum because I want her to have a resilient can-do attitude towards sports. And I think it’s working.”
Boucher shares a picture of her beaming 5 year old with her swimming badge for passing a level that took multiple tries. “She was so proud of achieving that! I am hoping that by staying in sports and improving, my daughter feels confident in her body and knows it can do powerful, great things.”
Jolene Foreman calculates her two kids are at programmed activities outside of school for about ten hours a week, and even more in winter when they add in hockey. She thinks her kids, 7 and 5, thrive on the busyness. Her oldest is high-energy and responds well to structure and physical activities. “He likes the challenge and the aspect of having a goal to work toward,” she says.
Her youngest isn’t quite so focused as her big brother. “She would be equally happy with or without activities – she is really good at unscheduled play. But because he needs the activities, she wants them, too.”
Foreman also sees the activities her kids are doing as a great way to deter screen time begging. “If he wasn’t in activities we would fight daily about iPad usage! He is kept busy and has minimal to zero iPad and TV. On the few days where there are no activities, we have constant battles.”
Foreman admits juggling the schedule can be really tricky, but so far it has worked out. “I have scheduled my own activities around the kids’ sports and I have been able to get friends or family to help take them to their activities so I can do my thing. I have also been able to help other friends with their kids in sports as well… it takes a village!”
Danielle Connelly, uses that exact phrase, too: “it takes a village”. Her two boys, 9 and 11, are both very active in lacrosse, with two practices and two games per week.
“The biggest challenge is when the team plays in Surrey, Vancouver, Ridge Meadows, and Semiahmoo, and we have to get there right in the middle of rush hour for a 6pm game,” she says. Connelly says it is very challenging to fit in dinner time, homework, and can often make for late bedtimes on school nights.
“It’s when you are juggling work schedules and different game and practice times that you really realize it takes a village! We rely heavily on family and teammates to help us get the kids to games and practices on time and we’re always happy to reciprocate – it’s all part of the process and everyone hops on for the ride.”
Connelly also thinks it’s worth it, despite the challenges.
“Being together and part of their sports world allows us to spend a lot of time one-on-one and as a family.”
Candice Halliday’s whole family is also involved in supporting her two kids in sports. “My husband and my father-in-law are assistant coaches. I have always said if any of my children want to play sports or go into dance we’ll make it work. Sports aren’t cheap, but we want both our children to be active so we juggle finances to do it.”
She sees the benefits too. “My son absolutely loves lacrosse. If he keeps on loving it, we will keep doing it.”
Sloane Drennan, whose two kids are both active in ball, ballet, and piano, places importance on activities. “I personally feel that our kids are not getting enough recreational time during school, either in PE or at recess, so we see the hour of physical activity that we do on family time as essential to the health and well-being of our kids. Early on I learned my son did not sleep if he didn’t get that extra hour of activity.”
It’s important for her to be honest about her expectations, too. “We’re not doing sports expecting our kids to be the next Gretzky. If they do, that’s great! But we are expecting them to learn to be good sports, play as a team, and all the lessons that brings.”
Finding activities for children with special needs can be very complicated, but Linda Tobias, whose son, 7, has autism, sees the physical and social value of the activities, so she perseveres. Her family has found success through the Canucks Autism Network, a BC-wide group that provides year-round recreation activities as well as training in communities. “They have a large variety of sports classes all over the province that are free – we just pay an annual family fee of $25 to be a member,” she says. Her son loves swimming. “He gets one-on-one support from a trained professional who is highly skilled in whatever they’re teaching as well as in responding to the kids’ special needs appropriately.”
“The downside is that there are far more kids than there are resources, so they’re allocated based on lottery and/or who’s been waiting the longest, and we don’t always get in, so we have to be flexible. For his age and skill level, there is a single class reasonably near us and we have to take it or leave it.”
Erin Jeffery believes the activities are teaching her son valuable life lessons. “For me it is less about him moving around and more about my personal belief in balance in life. I want him to try to experience everything, and I want him to engage both his body and his artistic side.”
Jeffery sees his activities as a way to cultivate social connections for her only child. “He is an active social kid, and yes, it isn’t as cheap as it would be if I tossed him in a backyard to mow three acres of lawn like I did – thanks Dad,” she laughs wryly, “but he’s meeting new people and learning so many things, and the benefit of being in a city as opposed to the small town I grew up in is that there are so many things he can try.”
Jeffery admits it’s a bit hard for her to put limits on the activities: “I want to do all the things! All the time! And I know he’s wired that way too, but it’s also important that we plan downtime, whether it’s three hours at the playground, playing board games, or drawing cartoons.
I have to try to limit it to a single sport and an art class each season.”
It’s challenging to find the right balance, and what works for one family won’t work for others. Overscheduling is a big concern for a lot of parents and many limit how much they sign up for in a season, if they sign up at all.
Briana Tomkinson’s approach to activities and sports is about finding the right balance for her family, as a whole.
“We try hard to find ways to keep active as a family, together,” she says. “We also live in a neighbourhood where the kids are encouraged to play free range with the other neighbourhood kids.” None of her children are currently in a registered, structured activity, but if one of them expressed an interest, she’d try to figure out a way to fit it in.
Many parents are protective of their kids’ free time. “Only one sport per season. Period,” says Colleen Baird, whose boys are diehard, baseball fanatics.
But she sees obvious benefits, too.
“I’ve watched my youngest branch out and meet new friends, learn to take instruction, focus, and challenge himself. I’ve watch my eldest blossom on the field, gaining confidence that he so sorely lacks in other areas. I’ve seen him go from a solitary, competitive player to an encouraging teammate.”
For Catriona Campbell, organized sports or activities are not the only way to go. She believes that “For some families, the scheduling and rushing from one activity to the next can be stressful and some children simply do not enjoy organized sports – and that’s ok!” She focuses, rather, on encouraging an overall active lifestyle, which includes lots of walking and outdoor adventures. “Geocaching and hiking are far more portable and accessible, and we don’t need to rigidly schedule either to keep the boys active.”
It is the reality of our busy modern world that there are challenges to keeping our kids moving such as time or cost, but let’s look at the question again: “Are parents making sacrifices just to get that hour of exercise in?”
Some are, but they see the benefits outweighing the drawbacks.
Following your child’s passions and supporting them as they grow and develop is part of a whole-family approach, no matter what your family looks like or how you define your “village”. Ultimately, connecting with your children and promoting a healthy life can happen whether you’re into programmed activities or not. And many of the parents I spoke with don’t see the work they put into overcoming the challenges of time and money as a sacrifice, they see it as a part of parenting in general.
Above all, parents love their children and want the very best they can provide for them, in whatever arena that is.