Once your kids reach a certain age, there’s a good chance they’ll want to get involved in organized sports.
And if they want to, you should let them! Participating in sports helps kids develop physically and emotionally while teaching valuable life skills.
(If you don’t let the competitiveness get out of hand, that is.)
There’s just one problem: Endless practices.
Our girls are in sports practice and swimming lessons around 4-5 days a week right now, for anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes at a time.
Usually, we’re expected to stick around. But between you and me… that gets a little boring. I like to watch practice when I can, but sometimes it feels like there might be other ways for me to use that time.
So I put together a list of fun things parents can do during sports practice!
(Other than screwing around on your phone, of course. All of the activities I’ve listed below have some kind of upside or positive effect on your well-being.)
Here are some fun things parents can do during kids’ sports practice besides staring at social media:
- Play board and card games
- Read a book
- Walk or exercise
- Take a nap in the car
- Be productive
- Listen to music and podcasts
- Watching a movie or TV show
- Play brain-boosting phone games
- Enjoy a portable hobby
Let’s explore the list in detail and some of my favorite activities to stay occupied during sports and other downtimes.
1. Bring Board and Card Games
If you’ve got some time to kill and another kid or two to entertain while another one practices, you can’t go wrong with games!
You can usually find a picnic table, bench, or flat surface to play on.
We like to keep our 3-year-old occupied during sports practices and games with matching or memory games — they’re super easy for toddlers to learn, and they’ll shock you with how good they are at it!
We’ve also had a lot of fun recently playing Old Maid and variations of it. It’s like a matching/memory game with a little extra.
For slightly older kids, our personal favorite on-the-go game is Uno.
But, if it’s just you, you can also bring a game to play by yourself! Bring any deck of cards you have lying around and you can play solitaire for hours.
2. Read a Book
There’s no better way to spend a quiet 45-minutes to an hour than reading.
And better yet, there’s a book out there for literally everyone.
If you’re into nonfiction, knock yourself out! It’s great for learning new things and developing your skills, whether that’s in life, business, or otherwise.
But I also highly encourage you to read more fiction. Fiction is great for your brain, too!
Not enough men are reading fiction, in particular. You’ll develop empathy and critical thinking skills, boost your creativity, and more by spending more time inside the heads of fictional characters.
You can also listen to an audiobook, if that’s more your style. Keep one eye on the practice while your brain is tuned into the story.
(Here are some of my best books by, for, and about dads.)
3. Walk or Exercise
The hectic schedule surrounding sports practice can take a toll on your health. It can be a lot of sitting and waiting around and then grabbing fast food for dinner to save time.
Why not take the opportunity to exercise while you’re waiting for practice to end?
At an outdoor practice field, even just a few loops around the field or track can make a major difference in your body’s energy output for the day.
Not to mention the fact that walking has an absolutely incredible list of health benefits, from helping maintain healthy weight to boosting mood to lowering stress.
Even indoor sports practices offer opportunities to move your body instead of sitting like a bump on a log.
When my daughter plays basketball or volleyball, there’s often an indoor track to walk around in the gymnasium.
If you’re feeling up to it, you can power walk, run, jog — or even just stand and watch! Standing will burn more calories than sitting and help keep you active and fit.
4. Take a Car Nap
Yes, I’m completely serious.
If you’ve got 45+ minutes of waiting around to do, I highly suggest snoozing in the car.
Look, there’s no way around it. Parents are severely sleep deprived, and it’s not always possible to get more sleep at night.
So getting bonus sleep can be a huge help.
Even a short micro-nap of just 15 minutes can make a big difference in your mental clarity and energy levels, and can help make up for a poor night of rest.
Just remember to set an alarm for a few minutes before practice ends!
5. Be Productive
Alright, it hardly counts as fun, but it beats doomscrolling.
A lot of sports parents will bring their laptops and catch up on emails and extra work while they’re waiting.
You can even take this chance to make annoying phone calls about bills, setting up appointments, etc.
Look through your To-Do list and see how much you can get knocked off using your phone and laptop while your kid is finishing sports practice.
6. Listen to (New!) Music and Podcasts
If you want to just chill and watch practice for a bit, might as well pop your headphones in and enjoy some tunes!
In fact, this might be a good chance to try to listen to some new music, not just your favorite playlists.
Exploring new music is a challenge for your brain, it doesn’t give you the immediate sense of reward and pleasure that you get from replaying the hits.
It can actually feel kind of… hard.
But new music can have exciting benefits for your brain, forming new neural pathways that keep our minds young and sharp.
Alternatively, you can listen to a podcast and learn something new, or just decompress by listening to your old standby podcast that feels like chatting with friends.
7. Watch a Movie or Show
Ah, it’s amazing what we can do on our phones these days, right?
OK, I said I was going to skip anything that involved too much phone usage, but watching a movie still beats mindlessly scrolling Instagram.
And if you’re like me, you don’t get a lot of solo time to enjoy the shows and movies you actually like.
(In my house, at least we can all agree on Bluey.)
Go ahead and treat yourself to that action flick, cheesy romance, or slasher film that the rest of your family won’t watch with you.
Count it as self-care!
8. Play Phone Games That Boost Your Brain
There’s nothing wrong with a little mindless entertainment sometimes!
It helps us decompress.
But too much Candy Crush and Angry Birds can ruin our sense of focus and become addicting, without offering any real benefit other than cheap distraction.
BUT! There are lots of games you can play on your phone that actually offer something positive for your brain.
One of my favorite downtime activities is playing chess on my phone. If I’m not in the mood for a real game, chess puzzles help me sharpen my skills and train my mind.
Puzzle games are another option for a fun way to keep your brain turned on.
There are even specialty games like Lumosity that are specifically designed to improve your memory, problem solving skills, and more.
Brain training, they’re called.
And on a related note (though not technically a game), why not take this downtime to learn a new language? Duolingo is fun and extremely effective!
9. Use Your Hands
Sports practice downtime is a great chance to enjoy portable hobbies that you do with your hands.
For example, if you like knitting, bring along a basket or bag of your materials and go nuts!
Alternatively, try sketching or even an adult coloring books. Coloring has been shown to have TONS of amazing effects on our brains and bodies.
Maybe bring along a proper camera and practice some photography. (Probably not taking pictures of the kids, though. That might be weird.)
Remember all those things you used to love to do but never have time for anymore? Dig those hobbies back up and bring them back to life during sports!
I’m as guilty as anyone.
When I’m waiting around at sports practice, I find myself drawn to my phone, refreshing Instagram for the millionth time or browsing Reddit.
But there are so many better options that are fun, but still feel like a good use of time.
And if none of the above sound good to you? Ask your kid’s coach whether you need to stick around during practice. You may be able to drop off and go run some errands, go shopping, or grab a coffee nearby.
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Hope this helps!