Soccer_playersIf you and your child athlete have joined the traveling sports culture, you already know the challenges that come with being on a team. It’s costly, demanding, and drama-filled. And perhaps one of the hardest things about travel ball is that it eats away at precious family time—if you let it.

It is possible for you to make travel ball an experience that strengthens your family and allows you to make many great memories together. But it takes persistence and a commitment to these steps:

Step 1: Turn it into a family vacation.

The first step is to make sure everyone in the family goes on the travel ball trips. When siblings are young, make them go; don’t take the easy way out and drop them off at a friend’s or at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

When siblings are older, lure them.

Do what you have to do, short of bribery—okay, bribe them if you have to—to convince them that this will be a fun weekend.

Just get them in the car, at all costs.

Step 2: Encourage everyone to cheer.

Cheering can be infectious. As you cheer for your child, stress the importance of supporting each other as a family. Brothers and sisters don’t have to watch as intently as Mom and Dad, but be sure they know when someone on the team makes a good play or especially when their sibling does something outstanding.

Step 3: Bring sports equipment for a diversion.

If you are attending an outdoor sport, bring what your spectator child needs to practice for their own sport. In between innings or games, or during time outs, bump the volleyball, play catch, throw the football, or kick the soccer ball around with your child. This is actually a great time to focus on the other kids and help them improve their own skills.

Step 4: Bring out the surprises.

If you’re not in the habit of saving toys or books for a special occasion, now is a good time to start. Stock up when you see them on sale and bring one or two on the weekend to offer as a diversion when your child gets bored.

Step 5: Have family members keep stats.

playgroundTeach brothers or sisters how to keep the books. It keeps them occupied, involved in the game, and makes them feel important. If you want, keep your own book too, until you are confident in their accuracy.

Step 6: Find time to play together.

If you have time—a big IF, I know—make a point during each trip to do at least one fun family activity that has nothing to do with sports. Find a mall, eat at a fun restaurant, or check out a quick tourist attraction.

Step 7: Make friends with other team families.

Part of the fun of travel ball is enjoying friendships with other families. Balance your own family time with team family time. Travel ball trips will be more appealing to your family when the non-players know they will be seeing friends.

Step 8: Start a collection.

Let the children who are not playing a sport purchase a small souvenir of each trip.

Step 9: Throw away unrealistic expectations.

All parents wish their kids wouldn’t fight—Who has to sleep on the hotel floor? Where do they want to eat dinner? Who gets stuck in the middle of the back seat—but we know that fighting is just what kids do. Once we throw away the unrealistic expectations that everything will be hunky dory, we are more likely to enjoy the journey.

Our family has many memories of ASA and AAU trips—some good, some not so good; some one-day trips, some week-long excursions; some exciting, some mundane. But they are experiences we shared together because we tried to make travel ball a family affair.

Janis Meredith writes a blog for sports parents on character building in youth sports. Because she has been married to a coach for 28 years and has three kids who played sports from age 5 through college, she sees life from both sides of the bench.