A Sportsparent’s Guide to Gaining Margin and Avoiding Overload

marginMargin? What busy sports parent has time for margin in his life? 

Richard Swenson, author of Margin, says that margin is..

The space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin.

If you are like most sports parents, you probably feel overload. What with practices, games, matches, trips, parent meetings, fundraisers, the idea of a life with margin seems totally unrealistic.

I don’t have time for margin! You may say. Of course you don’t! Nobody does. But here’s the deal: Margin does not just happen by itself. You have to fight for it. You must be intentional about creating it.

Why You Need Margin 

To avoid burnout 

You may have convinced yourself that busy-ness is a mark of an involved and hands-on parent. You may think that you’ll have time later for margin in your life.

Yes, those are both true. But if you insist on letting overload characterize your life, you will suffer the consequences. It’s easy for sports parents to cram their schedules full of activities. But there are dangers to overload: emotional, physical and spiritual burnout.

Emotionally–you can’t give your best to those you love.

Physically–you may suffer from health issues.

Spiritually–you could lose your sense of purpose and focus.

A burned-out parent is not doing anyone any good, not your kids, spouse, friends, or co-workers.

To Embrace Opportunity

If you have no margin, you will lose out on opportunities to say yes to the unexpected. To a last-minute outing with your child’s classroom, to a spontaneous date with your spouse, to a chance to help a neighbor or friend who needs you.

You need margin so that when things come along unexpectedly that you really want to do, you will have the freedom to say Yes.

How You Get Margin

When you are a sports parent, everyone seems to want a piece of you. But if you want to create margin in your life–space to breathe, relax, and have time for the unexpected–you have to start by saying NO.

With so many things to say yes to, how do you decide what to say no to?

Here’s a simple plan to help you begin to establish margin:

  • Take a few minutes to write down 5 of your family’s and your own personal core values or goals–the things, ideals, beliefs that are most important to you and that you want to achieve in your life.
  • Every time someone asks you to do something, see if it lines up with one of those core values or goals. For instance, if someone asks you to volunteer at the puppy shelter, but you have nothing in your core values or goals about animals, then maybe you should say No. But if someone asks you to chaperone a field trip for your child’s class and one of your core values is being there for your kids as much as you can, then maybe you should say yes.
  • If you are already maxed out, then start paring down your activities based on your core values and goals. Weed out the ones that you took on out of guilt or obligation. Identify activities that are very time-consuming but may not be in line with your core values.  Doing less of what is not important enables you to do more of what matters most. Perhaps learning to delegate to others might help.
  • Let go of relationships that do not fit in with your core values or goal.  That may sound harsh, but people can be clutter, too!
  • Let go of possessions that do not enhance your life on a regular basis – things that take up space, require maintenance, and make decision-making more complicated.
  • Schedule margin into your day or week. I’ve heard it suggested that you should leave two hours a day open and unscheduled. So, instead of packing every hour of the day with an activity, schedule in two hours of margin time. This will allow for interruptions that are bound to happen, and if you don’t have two hours’ of interruptions in a day, use the extra time to do something you’d like to do. If you are a busy parent, you may be laughing at that right now, so I’d say, start with ONE hour a day, even if it’s after the kids go to bed or in the morning before they get up. And definitely work on scheduling margin into your week. Schedule in a morning, an afternoon, or a couple of nights when you don’t have anything planned. In other words, plan to do nothing.
  • Schedule in refreshment–weekly, monthly, or whenever you can. Make a list of things that invigorate and refresh you and schedule them into your life.

Celebrate Your Season!

One of the biggest obstacles to margin is thinking we must do everything NOW. But I want to encourage you to recognize and celebrate your season of life.

Right now may not be the season to do some of the things you want to do. Maybe you don’t have time to scrapbook, enroll in classes or redecorate the house now, but there will be a season later when you will.

For years, I was in the season of raising kids. I homeschooled for a few years, then when they were back in school, I volunteered at the school. I was at all their games and activities and even when I took on a part-time job, I was available for as many activities as I could fit in. I put aside my love of writing (only dabbling here and there) because I just didn’t have the time. I was too busy living life! But today, my kids are in their 20s and writing fills my days. And guess what a lot of my writing comes from? The lessons I learned while being a busy sports parent!


Don’t waste another minute! The next season of youth sports is upon you.




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