How to pack a great cooler

How to pack a great cooler (Istock / August 20, 2014)

The day of my son’s first soccer practice, I arrived with a water bottle. That’s it. No bag with snacks or blanket to sit on. I happen to keep a Band-Aid in my wallet, but I don’t think we can call that being prepared.

Lest you get caught ice-less at a swim meet, sunscreen-less at soccer practice or hat-less at a double-header, we’ve consulted with local sports experts about how to prepare for the many hours you’ll spend on the sidelines at kids’ sporting events. 

If you’ve had the summer off or are new to youth sports, now’s the time to organize the tote bags and clean out the cooler. No more longing to be one of those parents who seems to have everything from lattes to shin guards.

The trick is to plan, without hauling a campsite worth of equipment to every scrimmage.

1 Water

Until your child hits professional-level play, there’s a good chance parents are in charge of bringing water bottles and snacks for half-time or post-game celebration. (And don’t forget the iced coffee for yourself.)

The bottles tend get to tossed to the side or thrown in a heap, so John D. Long, commissioner of the Green Hornets Field Hockey organization in Severna Park, recommends parents label them clearly. (And label other pieces of equipment while you’re at it.)

Rich Rudel, president of the Elkridge Hurricanes Football and Cheer program, also reminds parents to encourage kids to drink water in the days leading up to a game, not just on game day. “That’s the best way to stay hydrated,” he says.

2 Snacks

On some teams, families are on their own for refreshments. And practices are almost always “bring your own water bottle.” But for games, some coaches have a sign-up sheet for parents to bring snacks.

“It’s usually something like a juice box or Capri Sun and pretzels or Goldfish,” says Janine Schofield, president of the Towson Recreation Council and mother of four.

Some other sideline options: fruit, granola bars and trail mix (be careful of nut allergies) with cereal, mini-marshmallows, raisins, etc. 

The kind of snack may also be a factor if it’s at the middle of a game or meet. You don’t want your kid scarfing down a bag of chips and a cookie, then five minutes later trying to run a mile or swim 400 meters.

For longer events, you can freeze water bottles and juice boxes to help keep the cooler cold and to become a refreshing treat later. (For hot events, some parents also throw a towel or clean shirt into the cooler for breaks.)

“Natural fruit juice is a good option and helps with lightheadedness,” says Troy Hernandez, director of sales and marketing at Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center.

Chocolate milk is also becoming a popular post-game treat, says Hernandez, who is a personal trainer, too. “It’s gives energy and helps repair muscles,” he says. “Just watch the sugar content.”

To avoid the “reply to all” emails, some teams opt for electronic sign-ups using sites such as Sign Up Genius. (Some coaches also use phone apps or websites such as TeamSnap to schedule practices and games.)

3 First-aid kit

At many games, the referee or coaches will have a first-aid kit, but you can’t count on it — especially at practices.

You don’t need to lug a paramedic’s bag to every event, but it’s a good idea to have an ice pack for bumps and bruises and an Ace bandage for twists and possible sprains. (Sanitizing wipes for post-Porta-Potty use are also a good idea.)