Sure, it was cute seeing your toddler in a Lil’ Kickers or Soccer or or Soccer Shots uniform, his or her confidence growing with each passing year, but now your little one is in elementary school, and it’s time to accept the inevitable: Your child is into sports. For real.
And whether it’s soccer, baseball, volleyball, swimming or cheerleading, this means it’s on you and you alone to find the appropriate league, not just for your child, but for your family. That means one that’s within your budget, matches current and future skill levels, and doesn’t have too many yelling parents (or too few, if that’s your thing) — all within reasonable driving distance.
That said, there’s got to be a list of all Portland metro area leagues somewhere, right? In a book, or even online?
Turns out, your child is not the only one who will have a season. As a newly minted soccer/hockey/baseball/fill-in-the-blank parent, your role on the path to sports success is just beginning.
Mercifully, some sports are relatively easy to track down. Take soccer, for instance. Beyond the once-a-week soccer classes offered by organizations like the aforementioned Lil’ Kickers and Soccer Shots, the Portland Youth Soccer Association runs most local rec clubs. Thankfully, PYSA has a “Find a Soccer Club widget” on its homepage (pysa.com), where you can enter your neighborhood school and get linked up with your neighborhood club. If your kid has decided soccer’s their thing, this may be the easiest option.
(For maximum accuracy, we recommend double checking with families in your specific neighborhood — PYSA boundaries may overlap, and your kids’ friends and classmates could actually be playing for a different team than the one indicated by the site.)
However, if your son or daughter doesn’t aspire to be an ax- or rose-wielding Timber or Thorn, you’re going to have to treat the search for a proper sports season the same way you treated a search for a school, house or car: by researching, talking to friends and neighbors, and keeping running notes/charts on the pros and cons — in this case, perhaps, of private clubs versus a class at your local rec center, or the sport with a hefty equipment fee versus something easier on the wallet.
Like any sport, proper preparation begins long before the first whistle. Here’s a list of what you can do during each phase of the process to ensure success not just this year, but throughout your child’s athletic career.
> Look for signs around your neighborhood. This can be a great starting point for private clubs and rec leagues, but unfortunately, this tactic has the highest chance of success in neighborhoods and towns with high levels of volunteerism and parent involvement; neighborhoods full of families working multiple job shifts to make ends meet aren’t going to be able to spare five hours on a Saturday afternoon to pick up and distribute marketing materials.
> Google. A veritable treasure trove of information! Theoretically, at least. Though the facts are mostly out there, fumbling around on the Internet does have its pitfalls: Not only can it be a Sisyphean task to wade through thousands of pages that may not match your exact search terms, it can be difficult to find websites that are both up-to-date and taking place in your neighborhood and not Portland, Maine.
> Ask the closest elementary school. If you’re lucky, there’s a parent at the school providing registration info to be placed into the start-of-school pamphlet. However, this presupposes you’re involved with your neighborhood school — parents at charter, alternative, private, focus option and online schools most likely will have to look elsewhere.
> Check out churches and other religious organizations. If your child attends parochial school, the local Catholic Youth Organization (cyocamphoward.org) offers a plethora of options for organized sports, from basketball and track to boxing and volleyball, but your specific place of worship may have its very own programs as well — Mittleman Jewish Community Center (oregonjcc.org) offers everything from soccer to lacrosse, for example, and many suburban Christian churches sponsor leagues from Upward (upward.org).
> Look into your local parks and rec district. Most households within a parks and recreation district have catalogs mailed to them, but if you haven’t received one or it has long been lost to the recycling, head into your nearest community center and pick one up. Most districts offer a massive selection of classes and leagues at all levels, from swimming and dance to basketball and gymnastics.
> Check in with local realtors. Many of the more prominent metro-area realtors maintain lists of neighborhood and area amenities for their clients; look for which office seems to have the most real-estate signs around your neighborhood and call them up.
> Word of mouth. Ask around. Facebook groups, Nextdoor, and neighborhood moms’ clubs are good places to find parents of children slightly older than yours interested in the same activities who probably know exactly what’s available in your area.
> Pop in to a locally owned gear equipment shop for your sport of choice. From Salle Trois Armes in St. Johns (fencing) to Tursi’s in Beaverton (soccer), odds are there’s an old-school, family-owned gear shop near you that’s been supplying a certain sport for generations. The front-desk staff will be more than happy to fill you in on what leagues are popular in your area.
> Email the coach of your local feeder high school. If you’re wanting to get into a sport that’s offered at the high-school level, email the high-school coach of that sport; many of them moonlight coaching for club teams. Additionally, in the case of several sports, the high school teams organize the feeder youth leagues. Go to the high school athletics webpage and look for coach contact information and links to that sport’s youth program.
During the Season
Now that you’ve found a sport/team/club, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the teamwork and high fives, rotating through your turn in the carpool and snack schedule, right?
As you get to know other parents from your team (and its competing teams), you’ll probably find out their league-finding process, as well as the other sports they play.
The good (or bad!) thing about sports is, there’s always one happening: When one sport is in season, another is in pre-season, or has begun registration. If it’s fall, basketball season is next. In winter, softball is just around the corner. This means if the structure of a sports league is working for you and your kid, you might want to continue on to the next season’s activity.
Southwest Portland mom Mary Ann Walker, the parent of four athletic kids who’ve done it all, from ballet to soccer to ski teams, remembers learning about the sports-season shuffle the hard way when she first moved her family from Mill Valley, Calif., to the Bridlemile neighborhood.
“I remember coming to town and feeling at a loss — what do I do? Where do I go?” Walker recalls. “I remember my son was about 7 or 8, and he wanted to play baseball. Well into the spring we saw kids out playing, so I asked and was told, ‘No that sign-up was 6 months ago.’”
It may help to know most recreational sports follow a set seasonal schedule — in fact, youth sports seasons often mirror those at the high-school level. If you want to know what’s coming next (or what you may have already missed), the Oregon School Activities Association features a site (osaa.org/activities) with a handy calendar of sports seasons. (One caveat: OSAA doesn’t govern all high school sports. So, if your son or daughter is into something slightly less high-profile, like lacrosse, you’ll need to do a little extra work. Again, visiting your high school web page or locally owned sport-specific equipment store is probably the best tactic to find club sports. )
You made it! Most games went well, your son or daughter is more confident and has a few new friends in the neighborhood, and is already asking if he or she can play again next year. Before you call it a season, there are a few things that bear consideration, even if you’re moving on to the next season’s sport:
• Is there a place for you as a parent or family to participate in your league?
• Could you improve the experience or marketing of the league?
• Is there a position on your league board that you might fill?
• Could you start an equipment or uniform exchange?
• Would you want to be trained as a coach or official for the next season?
In all, it’s important to keep in perspective that for most families, the investment in youth sports is well worth the hassle. A 2015 NPR poll found that 76 percent of adults eventually encourage their children to play sports, citing leadership, discipline, social skills, and learning how to function as part of a team as their primary motivation in getting their kids out on the field.
Inveterate soccer moms like Walker agree.
“What I’ve seen in terms of the value in sports,” she says, “the value in signing your kid up at a young age and really getting them out there …I could talk forever about the benefits.”
Finding the Right Fit
As you’re contacting organizations, if you find you have multiple options, here are a few questions you should ask and details you should consider to help find the right league for your family:
» Is there any travel involved? Do you practice at your neighborhood park or gym, or will you be loading up the car for Vancouver? Are there expectations for a weekend tournament in Eugene? Most travel is done at higher, more competitive levels, but there’s no telling how long your tenure will be. If extensive travel won’t work for you, it’s best to know early on.
» What is the yearly calendar? Does the season have a clear start and end? Again, it’s more competitive levels that tend to function beyond a two- to three-month schedule, but it helps to know exactly what you’re getting into from the beginning.
» What are the fees? Registration? Uniform? Other? Are there scholarships and / or
equipment/uniform swaps involved? What equipment will parents be expected to provide?
» What are the organization’s policies when it comes to seasonal conflicts with school sports or extracurriculars? Again, something you’ll most likely encounter later, but knowing the commitment and expectations up front will let you know if your kid’s end of the basketball season will complicate the start of the baseball season.
» Where and how often are practices and games? Will you be driving to Hillsboro at 7 pm on a Wednesday night, or sitting in Sunday afternoon traffic on I-5? Again, it helps to ask these questions before committing to avoid any broken hearts.