And So It Begins: Graduating from a Toddler Free-for-All to Structured Activities


Softball gloves, check.

Water bottles, check.

Bats, backpacks, cleats, check, check, check.

“Hurry UP!” I yelled at my four-year-old, who was in the pantry for what seemed like the 48th time in the last hour.

Finally I corralled all three crazy kids into the minivan, and we sped off to softball practice.

Halfway down the street, I realized I had forgotten a water bottle and snack for my two-year-old who isn’t old enough to play, but gets dragged to most of her older sisters’ practices and games.

“Sorry,” I said to her in the rearview mirror. “We’ll get happy meals after!”

structured kid sports and extracurricular activities

This is what most Sunday afternoons look like for us these days as my two older daughters are on a recreation softball team. I was thrilled to sign them up since I played softball myself as a little girl all the way through high school. 

I laughed the first time they each put on a batting helmet, since it seemingly engulfed their tiny little heads.

I cheered the first time they each got their first hits and yelled frantically for them to RUN FASTER to first base.

It’s fun to watch–but also infuriating at times–since they’re both learning the ins and outs of a team sport that has lots of down time at their age. There have been times when my four-year-old is sitting down in right field, facing the fence, with seemingly no clue that a game is actually taking place. And my six-year-old has been known to start doing pirouettes while playing shortstop, not even noticing that the ball was hit to her until it rolled by.

structured kid sports and extracurricular activities

Yes, watching my girls begin their athletic careers is kind of an emotional drain.

But in hindsight, for several years I couldn’t WAIT to get to this point. I remember those endless days of the baby and toddler stages when the closest thing to an activity was dropping them off at Sunday School or going to a birthday party.

I used to daydream about the day when they’d start playing sports, taking dance lessons, go to summer camp, and have actual structured activities. I pictured myself looking on proudly from the bleachers, cheering and yelling words of encouragement, before taking them out for ice cream to celebrate a win.

Let’s just say, we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

My oldest did play fall soccer for two seasons and church league basketball for one. But it wasn’t until my middle daughter started playing, too, that I started to wonder why I signed them up for these things at such an early age.

Goodbye ability to crash at home at the end of a long day. Hello sports practices and games and the need to remember a million things, plus purchase all necessary equipment for said activities.

And the best part? We haven’t even really gotten into the thick of it yet.

So far, I’ve been lucky. My two oldest daughters are on the same softball team, so they are like a 2-for-1 deal when it comes to weeknight games and weekend practices. My two-year-old usually plays on the on-site playground at the ballpark or generally drives me insane as I’m trying to watch her sisters.

But things are about to change. At the end of the month, my two-year-old starts instructional soccer on Tuesday nights. The same night as softball.

Even better, my oldest starts tennis clinics at the end of the month . . . also on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.

Then, at the end of April, swimming lessons start for all of them.

structured kid sports and extracurricular activities

I admit I started to panic as I entered these things into my calendar. To say we are going to need a system to keep all of these activities straight is an understatement.

I’m sure moms with older kids are probably laughing at me now thinking, “Oh girl, you just WAIT.” But I’m fully aware that it will only get busier and more hectic as they get older. I’m still feeling the after effects of the initial shock from going to having mostly free weeknights to having to make a schedule with my husband to figure out who is taking who where–not to mention, what’s for dinner!

The thing is, I want them to do MORE. I want them to have every opportunity to try anything they want even if it means I have to significantly increase my caffeine intake and take out a second mortgage to do it.

I was lucky as a kid that my parents signed me up for everything. We were an athletic family, so our activities were mostly sports. I played soccer (very briefly), basketball, tennis, and softball before settling on tennis as my main sport. But I also took drama, which allowed me to take part in local plays, I took swimming lessons, I went to overnight summer adventure camps, and I joined reading clubs.

For that reason, I want my kids to get a taste of it all before they decide for themselves what their passions are.

So now, as I squeal into a parking space at the ballpark with four minutes to spare, I glance in the backseat and remind myself to take a deep breath.

They are young, after all. This is all supposed to be fun. And if Mom is stressed because getting everyone here on time with all the necessary equipment was a challenge, they don’t need to know that.

“Have fun!” I tell them. “Try hard and do your best, that’s all that matters.”

About an hour later, nearing the end of a scrimmage game, my middle child plopped down on first base and refused to stand up and participate any longer.

But I digress.