Extracurricular activities such as organized sports are a big part of our kiddos’ lives. Numerous studies promote the physical, mental, and social development benefits of participation in youth sports. When we had our son, I didn’t think much about sports. As a toddler and through kindergarten, he was always very physically active, but in considering extracurricular activities for him, I was thinking piano lessons. When he was entering first grade, he approached my husband and me and said, “Mom, dad, I want to play tackle football.” Boy, did that surprise me! He played football and loved it, but it was when he discovered baseball that he truly lit up. Our son is now 16 and he has been investing his passion and energy into baseball ever since that first little league experience. Of course, his investment in baseball has meant our investment in baseball. It is and has been a huge time and financial commitment that has required my husband and I to work together.
For parents who are divorcing or already divorced, supporting their children’s commitment to sports can be challenging. Two people who may no longer desire to be in regular communication or cooperation will have to do so to ensure their child gets to practices on time, attends games, has the required equipment/uniforms, and, most importantly, continues to enjoy sports. Statistics evidence that 80% of children quit playing sports after they reach age 15. The added stress of divorced parents who cannot work together creates even more pressure to quit.
So, what can divorcing or divorced co-parents do to support their kiddos’ participation in organized sports? Here are some tips:
1. Create a detailed and comprehensive parenting plan.
Parenting plans include the parents’ agreements regarding legal decision making and parenting time, both of which potentially impact your children’s sports commitments. If your child is already participating in sports at the time of the divorce, include your agreements around that issue in your parenting plan. For example, even if your agreement calls for joint legal decision making, be more specific to include terms that prohibit one parent from making unilateral decisions about what team your child will play on, how you will handle games with both parents present, limitations on social media posts around your children’s sports, limitations on how each parent will communicate with the coach, the children, and other sports parents, etc. Create a protocol to make joint decisions when your child no longer wants to participate in the sports activity.
With regard to parenting time, include specific agreements regarding accommodating the children’s sports schedule. How will you handle situations where the parent with designated parenting time on a particular weekend is unable to take your child to a weekend tournament? How will you handle maintaining and transporting the children’s necessary equipment or uniform? Consider whether a parenting time schedule with longer intervals works better to accommodate the sports schedule than a shorter interval schedule such as 2-2-3.
Set specific and clear expectations in your parenting plan as to which co-parent will pay for what sports-related expense. Many co-parents consider the initial cost of the sports program (club fees, etc.), but fail to address other expenses. Using baseball as an example, there are equipment costs (bat, glove, uniforms, sliding pants, shin/arm/foot guards, catcher’s gear, etc.) which are rarely, if ever, provided by the sports program. There are team photographs, tournament fees, travel expenses, private training, nutritional supplements, etc. You may agree in your parenting plan to split these expenses 50/50, but how will you handle situations where one co-parent cannot afford to contribute his/her share to these expenses?
Any potential circumstance that you can imagine can be addressed in your parenting plan. Of course, we always recommend that you include the requirement to mediate any conflicts resulting from any unexpected issues that arise, rather than rushing to court to have a judge decide.
2. Maintain open and regular communication with each other and those involved in your children’s sports life.
One thing I can attest to as a sports parent is that our children will not always clearly communicate with their parents about sports schedules, uniform requirements, etc. Make sure your coach or other administrator of the sports program has both parents’ contact information and is using that to keep both co-parents in the loop. Consider an app or online calendar that allows both co-parents access. When one parent receives information about an event, that parent can enter it into the joint calendar so the other co-parent is notified. Some apps/online calendars even have a space for notes, to-do’s, and contact information for the coach, other parents, etc.
Maintain a united front with the sports program and the other sports parents. Do not provide conflicting information to anyone, for example, regarding your children’s dedication to the team, physical fitness/health, attitude around the team or the sport, or outside activities. Avoid speaking negatively about the co-parent to the coach or other sports parents.
Check in with each other regularly on observations regarding the children’s continuing interest in the sport. As parents, we get so much pleasure watching our child play baseball, for example, that it can be hard to accept when our child no longer wants to play. Communicate with each other on how to identify whether your child is just avoiding discomfort or really has moved onto other passions.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
One of the things that organized sports fosters is a sense of community. The other sports parents and coaches have become a second family to us, not only because we spend so much time together, but also out of necessity. No one parents alone in this world. Even with our best efforts, we all need help. If co-parents are having trouble with transportation to games or practices, ask the coach to help you to coordinate rideshares. If a co-parent has a work schedule that makes it impossible to get to the child before a practice or game, ask the coach to help you to coordinate a snack and water program so you don’t have to worry that your child will be hungry or thirty. There may be feelings of embarrassment or shame around the divorce that cause a parent to avoid reaching out, but my experience has been that the coaches, players, and other sports parents really want to support our children continuing in the sport and are willing to help whenever they can.
If you are a sports parent who is considering divorce or have a parenting plan in place that does not provide you what your child needs, give us a call at or text to 602-714-7447.