A summer sports tournament is not the time to pack light. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from experience – and from peeking into the stylish utility totes of veteran sports moms. Here are some field-tested tips if you’re preparing for a weekend of soccer, baseball or any other outdoor activity.
Organize your athlete. Obviously, the child who will be competing is your first priority. Wash all pieces of his or her uniform and bring extras of everything, especially socks (even if it’s not raining, there’s still the dewy morning grass). Double-check the equipment bag to make sure everything is there – do a mental “head to toe” review if you need to. Label everything to avoid mix-ups with teammates’ identical-looking gear.
Establish a home base. When you arrive at the tournament site, find a safe spot to set up your family’s mini headquarters. You can rig up a canopy, tent or sunbrella if you have one, or go old-school with camp chairs and a blanket. Speaking of blankets, a durable one (or an old sleeping bag) can be a useful multi-purpose item. Keep it in your vehicle at all times for impromptu picnics or unseasonably chilly days.
Don’t trust the forecast. If you’re asking yourself “weather” or not you need to bring something, the answer is always yes. Adopt the same packing approach you would have for camping. You’ll be ready for anything if you have rain jackets, umbrellas, bug spray, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Embrace the need for change. One mom of three confided that her secret to being ultra-prepared for any type of outing, from a sports event to a day at the zoo, is to pack a bag with a change of clothes for each person, including herself. She throws in a full outfit, extra underwear, a cozy hoodie and some plastic bags for wet or soiled items. She stashes it in the trunk until there’s a spill, bathroom accident, downpour, dramatic temperature change or other unforeseen incident.
BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). The venue may have a concession stand, but it is usually stocked with overpriced junk food that won’t do a great job of fueling your young athlete’s performance. Unhealthy or unfamiliar foods, combined with pre-game nervousness, may cause a sore stomach that prevents him or her from participating. Instead, pack a cooler with wholesome foods that you know your child will eat. This way, if treats like Gatorade and Freezies surface along the way, at least you can balance them out with some healthy options. If your hotel room has a fridge, you can also visit a local grocery store and pick up a few essentials.
Bring all the snacks. Always bring way more food than you think you’ll need. Avoid anything chocolate-coated, since it will end up as a melty mess. Some popular choices are strawberries, watermelon, and pre-cut raw veggies. Banana bread is also a highly portable snack for any time of the day. To manage younger kids’ portions, bring plastic containers that you can refill from a larger bag of crackers, popcorn or pretzels. Individually wrapped snacks like granola bars, applesauce pouches or Bear Paws are also lifesavers when the game goes into overtime or extra innings.
Have an ice day. You’ll need lots of water to keep everyone cool and hydrated. Your new best friend is the hotel’s ice machine, where you can fill your cooler and water bottles at the start of the day. I’ve started bringing yogurt or margarine containers with lids and filling those with ice cubes, too. As the day goes on, I refresh the kids’ water bottles with ice and add bottled water from the cooler.
Keep it clean, part 1. Good hygiene habits can be a challenge when you’re in the middle of an open field with only a port-a-potty in sight. You’ll be glad you tossed a package of wet wipes or a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag. A towel is also handy if your kids (like mine) freak out at the noise of a public washroom air dryer. A mom of four told me that she keeps all eight of her kids’ hands clean by carrying a liquid soap pump with her, since sportsplex soap dispensers are empty 99% of the time. She also uses it at the hotel in place of those tiny paper-wrapped bars that are mangled after five minutes.
Keep it clean, part 2. A small amount of dish soap and a bottle brush are helpful for washing out water bottles, mouth guards, sippy cups or snack containers back at the hotel. You can also pack a stain-remover stick and laundry soap in case you need to launder anything in the evening.
Pray for a playground. Yes, you’re there to cheer on your young athlete, but he or she is busy with the competition and has plenty of coach support and supervision. The rest of your energy will likely go into entertaining and monitoring any siblings who are along for the ride. Remember how you set up your home base at the start? This helps delineate where younger siblings should stay, or where older ones should check back in if they venture off for a short time. Research the sports complex ahead of time to find out if there is a playground or splash pad for siblings to enjoy.
Provide activities, old and new. Each sibling should have an age-appropriate activity bag of toys and books – school-aged kids can even pack it themselves. My six-year-old’s must-have sideline items are a lunch kit of mismatched markers and a blank spiral notebook. Sometimes I will pre-buy a small dollar-store item to surprise him with during a long day. The main thing I’ve learned is to only bring things that are expendable, meaning that no one will be heartbroken if they are lost or damaged. Sometimes other kids (from our team or the opposing side) will wander by and want in on the action. I have found that beat-up Hot Wheels cars and plastic character figurines (the kind you’d find in a Happy Meal) have universal appeal. Duplo is easily shared and keeps little hands busy (Lego pieces are too small and easy to lose). An old-fashioned deck of cards can occupy a group of kids with a friendly game of Go Fish. The big win here is that you might actually get to watch the game for a few uninterrupted minutes. Go team!
*CONTEST NOW CLOSED*
Comment below with your own tips on how to survive sports tournaments, and be entered with win a Mabel's Labels Sports Label Pack!
Contest closes August 1st, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. One entry per person, winner to be chosen by random draw. This contest is open internationally. By entering you are confirming that you are at least 13 years of age.