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MomsTEAM's 2012 Year In Review: Another Year For Finding Solutions, Not Just Identifying Problems

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Yesterday, the last day of what has been a very long, yet rewarding year as the publisher of MomsTEAM, I took some time to read many of the blog entries that I and our other bloggers contributed during the past year, and reviewing 365 days of Facebook and Twitter posts.

First, a confession: I began 2012 vowing to write a blog every day. Like many who make New Year's resolutions, I started out with the best of intentions, and kept up a pretty good pace in the first month or so of the year, but then a major opportunity presented itself - a plea for help from a football mom in Oklahoma - that made a daily blog no longer possible. (More about that in a moment)

Brooke de Lench and Taylor de Lench Newcastle Oklahoma August 2012

Second, I realized from my year-end-review just how blessed MomsTEAM and I have been this past year to be part of a wonderful community of sports parents, coaches, and experts, all working hard every day to do what we can to make sure that our kids, from pre-schoolers to college, have the very best - and safest - youth sports experience possible. I wish I could personally thank everyone who has contributed to MomsTEAM over the past year, indeed over the past twelve years, whether it be by writing an article or blog, "liking" us on Facebook, re-Tweeting a Tweet, or by sending an email. Thanks to all of you.

Third, I have a renewed sense of purpose in doing what I can to meet the very real challenges we face in achieving MomsTEAM's mission of making youth sports saner, safer, less stressful and more inclusive. Unlike some of my colleagues, whose focus seems to be in pointing out all that is wrong about youth sports, one even wondering whether "[our kids] might be better off at home, in the basement, playing sports video games," I choose to take more of a glass half-full, proactive approach. Even in the most horrendous youth sports stories from the past year, there are lessons to be learned that can help us provide a better sports experience for our kids. Where others see problems, I see challenges which we must redouble our efforts to overcome.

From the day the MomsTEAM website went live back in August 2000, our goal has always been to not just identify and chronicle problems, but to offer sports parents, coaches, and administrators practical advice on how to solve those problems, whether it be on preventing psychological, sexual or physical abuse or what a young athlete needs to eat and drink to perform at their best in the classroom and on the field. As one of our longtime readers wrote me in a recent e-mail, "You all at MomsTeam always keep your heads calm while everyone else is running around claiming the sky is falling."

One article from the past year that particularly stands out for me as illustrative of the MomsTEAM approach was about alleged emotional abuse by a youth hockey coach of a set of nine-year old twin boys in a town not too far from our corporate office in Boston, Massachusetts. Instead of simply rehashing the story - which had made quite a splash in the local media - we viewed it as a chance to not only tell a cautionary tale, exposing what we called youth hockey's "dirty little secret" - a culture in which emotional abuse by coaches of young players is considered the norm, and anyone trying to change it is ostracized - but to propose concrete steps to change the culture in order to better protect the fragile psyches of young athletes. We received hundreds of emails and voice mails thanking MomsTEAM for tackling a very tough and controversial subject, and believe that the world of youth ice hockey is a safer place for our having run the story.

Knock, knock 

The subject of concussions in sports, especially in football, and the risks that they pose, dominated the news again in 2012, as it has for a number of years, but, here again, MomsTEAM's approach has been geared to providing information to youths sports parents, not just about the dangers of concussion, but about how the risks can - and cannot - be minimized, and practical advice on how, through early identification and conservative management, we can meet the challenges concussion pose to our children's short- and long-term health.

Which brings me back to the football mom in Oklahoma and the reason I wasn't able to reach my goal for 2012 of a daily blog. When she emailed me in February asking me to set up a concussion risk management program for the football team at the local high school, I saw not just another request for help similar to countless others MomsTEAM receives each year, but a chance to take concussion education to a whole level; to use her request as a springboard for a football concussion documentary; not a film to scare the daylights out of parents about the dangers of concussions - which are real and very serious - but to continue to be champions of awareness and education; to emphasize safety over sensationalism; to show communities across the country how, if everyone works as a team, those risks can be and are being minimized in a way that preserves and strengthens the American institution that is high school football and honors the millions who watch or play the sport under Friday night lights.

So, for most of the past year, I have thus been devoting big chunks of my time working with a football-centric community in Oklahoma to produce The Smartest Team (if you haven't seen the trailer, click here). Now that filming is over and post-production is nearing completion, I will be sharing more about the experience in future blogs, and in talks around the country.

Working on the film made 2012 a very special year. Its release promises to make 2013 even more special, as part of our ongoing work to keep youth athletes safe and in the game.

Happy New Year from all of us at MomsTEAM.