I try to make it a point to participate in some sort of outdoor sports activity with my 4-year-old son at least once a day. I have my favorite game (pitching to him) and so does he (Frisbee).
But I decided last week that I was going to pick a new game. In fact, it wasn't even a game. It was a hike. And not just around the neighborhood, but around the lake at the local state park. And we were going to take the rest of the family with us.
As I was hiking along -- ironically, using my athletic skills to avoid tripping over roots and rocks -- I tried to determine how I could tie this activity into the subject of youth sports.
The nicest part of the hike was that the entire family participated -- even the teenager (willingly) and the toddler (albeit he spent part of the hike on my hip). Typically, the daily sports activity involves just the 4-year-old and me, while mom tends to the toddler and the teenager does anything to avoid being around his parents.
The next best part of the activity was learning a little bit about nature. The 4-year-old saw his first snake that wasn't behind a glass window, while the teenager willingly explained to his younger brother why leaves fall off the trees in the fall but not the summer -- proving that he actually does pay attention in school. The toddler was most amazed that horses don't "poop in their diapers."
There was non-stop chatter -- which I assume scared away even more critters -- among everyone. I heard about my younger son's latest craft project at daycare and the teenager's latest crush, which were both news to me.
At the end of the hike, we were all tired. So, yes, like youth sports, we did get some exercise. But more importantly we spent time together as a family, learned a little bit about nature and each other, and decided as we loaded back into the car that it wouldn't be the last hike we went on this summer.
The time we spent together that morning is time we won't have once the fall youth sports season begins and I'm at one field with the teenager while my wife is at another with the soon-to-be 5-year-old. And maybe that's the best way to tie it into the subject of youth sports: Take the opportunity now to do things with your entire family that you already know you won't have time for once the fall season begins.
No matter the activity, sports-related or not, I think you'll find it is time well spent.
Reach columnist Jon Buzby at firstname.lastname@example.org.