Back to School and Sports: Time Management for Parents and Young Athletes

September 27, 2021 9:45:00 AM EDT | USASF

It’s difficult organizing time as an adult with all the responsibilities we have in our work, personal and social lives. Add in a spouse and some sporty kids with their own very nuanced lives and you’re headed for a hurricane of stress and chaos.

That is, unless you have a time management strategy. Think of it like an “easy” button for hectic families.

To help all those busy parents and athletes out there, we want to offer actionable steps for incorporating time management into your everyday life.

Time Management for Parents

The first question you might have is what, exactly, is time management?

To put it succinctly, time management is the active planning and control of the amount of time spent on different activities.

For those of us lacking in time management, your day may be spent like a boat in the ocean. You head from one task to the next pushed by the current or whim of the wind, or in this case the endless list of activities. Your days are spent like an overworked crisis manager, rushing from one appointment to the next. There’s never enough time, and nothing ever really gets done.

Time management gives you a rudder and an engine for the boat. It’s a process or system for planning activities. It gives you control of the time spent on specific activities.

With time management in place you can stress less about making a practice or finding time to complete that home project. Rather than operating on the bleeding edge of a meltdown or personal crisis because you are behind on everything, you have conscious control over what you do and how you spend your time

With time management in place, you are more productive and efficient. You can enjoy the time you spend on an activity, rather than rushing around from one late appointment to another.

So, let’s look at a few time management tips to help you be more efficient when planning activities.

Accept that you will have to miss some things

Our kids look up to us, whether we know it or not. While your goal may be to do it all so your children won’t miss out on anything, it isn’t always feasible for families with complex schedules and kids who love sports.

The first step toward better time management is accepting the fact that sometimes you and your children will have to miss things. You can’t make every practice or event, and sometimes you’ll have to say no to a play date or a get together. Having to say no to fun events can be hard for parents and children but saying no every now and then helps build discipline and character and prevents burnout. You may not like it, but in the end, you’ll have more fun and stress less.

Prioritize activities from most important to least important

To alleviate the nuisance of schedule sacrifices, try creating a list of all of your calendar activities in order of their importance. When adding a new activity and you run into a conflict, compare the importance of each of the activities before making a scheduling decision.

This is not only a good way of de-escalating schedule conflicts, it’s also a good mental exercise to make sure you are spending your time wisely. If one activity keeps falling to the bottom of the list, then maybe your time would be better spent elsewhere. Having a list of priorities will also make it easier to justify your reasoning when your son or daughter wants to do something that doesn’t fit into the schedule, especially if you get their buy-in on the priorities.

Create a Master Schedule for the Family

With the family unit being pulled in different directions, yanked by competing and conflicting responsibilities, staying organized and keeping everyone on the same page is paramount. A master schedule gives you an integrated, comprehensive view of competing responsibilities and activities. With a single schedule, it’s easier to plan out who is driving to and attending each activity, and where everyone is during busy times.

Your master schedule should be on display somewhere at home so everyone can see it on a daily basis. A kitchen, for example, is a great place for the schedule. If you want to take it online, try Google Calendar for your computer, phone or tablet. 

Make Downtime Essential

I know I know, it feels uncomfortable planning for breaks during the week. With so much to do, it may feel greedy to want downtime for yourself even if you feel your family deserves it! It’s mentally tiring to be on the go constantly and without downtime and a little break you will burn yourself out. Suddenly a soccer practice will feel like a chore rather than a joy.

Being able to schedule downtime allows you to take a breather. It gives you something to look forward to during particularly busy moments and helps prevent burnout. You can spend precious moments with your children and spouse. Relaxing is necessary for health and happiness especially with a busy schedule.

Time Management for Younger Children

Time management may not be your top priority when it comes to youngsters, but there may never be a better time to learn lessons that will last a lifetime. Building the structure that time management brings into school, family and activities will provide structure that helps many children thrive in their pursuits.

Observe Seasonal Changes

With back-to-school and sports beginning in the fall, vacations in summer, and winter holidays, seasons are a great way to help younger children observe the passage of time. This is a critical skill for bettering time management skills. 

For younger children, time is either “in the present” or “not in the present.” Watching seasonal patterns, then connecting the season to the activities, helps children learn time management by connecting a season to an activity. Track time and the preparation necessary for an upcoming event with a little helper.

Build Daily Routines

Since little kids love routines and repetition so much, create charts of your child’s morning and bedtime rituals. Make sure they are visible and understandable. Have the child check off the steps as he/she does routine. This will not only provide structure but will also give the child a sense of accomplishment. It will also help prepare them for using the master schedule with the family.

A whiteboard or easel are great tools for this activity. That way your child can visually see what they have to do each day as they learn to manage their time.

Delayed Gratification and Learning to Wait

In essence, an important element of teaching time management is learning the art of waiting. Time management, at its most basic level, is the ability to delay gratification. Boost a child’s time management skills by creating situations that require them to wait for something they want.

To increase excitement, mark days off on the calendar and build up excitement as a school or sport event gets closer. Initially you might receive pushback from your children as this isn’t an easy skill even for adults to master. Even so, this gives children a sense of what it feels like to postpone something and a positive experience to associate with it — and helps them focus on current events and activities.

Time Management for Older Children

As children get older, they began to coordinate and group days of the week, events and time. However, this doesn’t mean they understand or can adequately use time management. To reinforce these skills here are some actionable steps to help teach time management.

Prioritize Organization

Making organization a priority is key to mastering time management for older kids. If you can’t find your homework, or forgot a reading book, or haven’t gotten your sports uniform ready, then you aren’t ready for an activity. The child will waste time getting ready, doing the things they should have done before, and won’t be able to focus.

Time management skills require organization. Taking time to prepare, setting aside space to work and having everything you need on-hand helps with efficiently using time for an activity. If an older child is constantly late finishing subjects in school or scrambling to get things ready at the last moment, they can’t focus.

Look at setting up workspace for the child. Take a little extra time to prepare before an activity and help them overcome challenges they have in getting everything done in its allotted time.

Practice Estimating Time

In order to make a realistic schedule, older children need a good sense of how long things will take to get done. You can practice and get better at making time estimates. To nurture this skill, build a chart that breaks down time into 15-minute intervals. Use it to track and record what they do and how long it takes to complete an activity.

Once they have a good grasp on estimated time, kids can better plan and schedule activities like practice or homework. Take time to review the schedule with them. Ask your child their thoughts on how long each activity will take. This will give you an idea of how they view those activities, and over time their estimates will improve.

Use Chunking

If your child has a large project or athletic goal/routine they have to prepare for, chunking can help them use time management to meet the goal. Chunking breaks down a complicated task into smaller, more manageable steps. It lets you chip away slowly at a massive, imposing task and helps them track progress.

You can make a big task fun by offering small rewards to reinforce the completion of each step. When its finished, you can see their progress and reward the accomplishment. This boosts self-esteem while reinforcing and teaching time management skills.

Steady Progress Wins the (Time Management) Game

Time management for sports families is an ongoing process, and you don’t have to get it right the first time… or the second or third time.

While you want to be a superhero parent, all good superheroes require practice, learning and time to reach the peak of their powers. Don’t be afraid to try new time management tools or tactics, even if your other efforts have failed in the past. You never know what might stick and allow your family to optimize how they spend their time.