It's Mothers Day once again. Time for spring sports, warmer weather, longer days, planting gardens, and, of course, watching kids play sports. Each year for the past thirteen years, MomsTEAM has published my Mother's Day Wish list. As you will see, many of the wishes on this year's list will look very familiar to long-time visitors. But a couple are brand spanking new:
More moms: I wish that ... instead of being a "No-Mom's Land" in which a mother's only job is to chauffeur the kids to and from practices, support their kids from the bleachers, and run concession stands, youth sports could be a place where as many mothers as fathers are invited to be coaches, administrators, and members of boards of directors of youth sports organizations locally and nationally. This has been on my wish list forever. My anecdotal experience over the years is that youth sports organizations with equal or close to equal numbers of women and men in leadership roles actually provide a safer youth sports experience to our kids in just about every aspect: physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that, if we are making progress in this area, it is painfully slow. The fact is that men pretty much continue to run the show.
Redefine competition: I wish that ... instead of defining competition solely in terms of winning and losing, youth sports could also reflect a mother's belief that, while competition is healthy and necessary, a successful competition is one where all players do their best and respect their teammates, opponents, and the rules. This used to be almost universally true in sports for kids in elementary school, but now? Not so much. To say that it is a disturbing trend that needs to be not just stopped but reversed is an understatement.
Sports for all: I wish that ... when a mother signed a child up to play sports, she knew that her child would be given a chance to continue playing right through high school, regardless of ability, not excluded by a youth sports system designed to cater to the elite few. Again, if anything, things on this front are getting worse, not better, with more and more intense competition for roster spots for elite or travel teams at ever earlier ages.
Stop the abuse: I wish that ... youth sports were a place that provided the kind of nurturing, caring, and inclusive environment mothers know intuitively their children need to grow into confident, competent, empathetic, and emotionally and psychologically healthy adults, instead of a place where physical, emotional and even sexual abuse of children is too often viewed as the price children have to pay in order to play.
Listen to moms: I wish that ... mothers could feel safe in challenging the status quo by registering their concerns about safety issues, an abusive coach, an unfair team selection process, the lack of women leaders, or the unhealthy overemphasis on competition, aggressiveness and winning instead of being afraid that, if they speak up, their children will be ostracized.
Restore balance: I wish that ... more mothers felt empowered to just say no, to reject the all too common belief that more (more teams, more practices, more intense and competitive games) and earlier (travel teams at age seven) are better, and instead to trust their intuition that, when it comes to youth sports, less is more.
I wish that ... so many mothers didn't get sucked into the crazy vortex of competitive youth sports, where survival virtually requires that they become overly focused on and invested in their children's athletic success, and were able to find a healthy balance between sports and family life.
Again, I'm not sure things are getting any better on the sports/family balance front, but we'll keep on trying to help parents keep sports in a proper perspective.
Better injury prevention: I wish that ... youth sports organizations did more to reduce the risk of catastrophic injury or death so that fewer mothers have to spend Mother's Day remembering a child who died because proper safety precautions such as anchoring soccer goal posts, strictly adhering to concussion return-to-play guidelines, and having an automatic external defibrillator at every game and practice, were not taken. Some signs of progress, but the overuse injury epidemic seems to be getting worse, not better.
For the past 14 years, MomsTEAM has been providing sports parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and all youth sports stakeholders comprehensive and practical advice on how to make youth sports safer, saner, less stressful and more inclusive. But there is more, much more, we can and must do to improve youth sports safety.
To that end, we are working with some of the top experts in sports injury prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as experts in nutrition, heat illness and hydration, strength and conditioning, and coaching, and with leading academic institutions around the country, to develop a comprehensive set of best practices for youth sports programs called SmartTeams. We will be piloting the SmartTeam program in the fall of 2014 with eight communities with the goal of rolling it out nationally in the spring of 2015.
Instead of highlighting all the problems that youth sports faces in the 21st century, our goal will be to celebrate programs, like the high school football program in Newcastle, Oklahoma featured in our PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer," that are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, by adopting best safety, nutrition, hydration, and organizational best practices. Our goal is to provide sports parents with something akin to an "Angie's List" for youth sports; a way to know, when they register their child, that the program to which they are entrusting their child is one in which safety never takes a back seat to winning.
Two final wishes
Which leads me to make two, brand new, wishes:
The first is that you share this blog, and spread the word about MomsTEAM, with all of the mothers in your life, because it will only be as a team of moms (and dads) that we can make the wishes we all have as safety-conscious parents come true.
And the second is that, if you believe that MomsTEAM has helped you as sports parent, if you have found the information and advice we have been providing free of charge these past 14 plus years useful, you consider making a donation in any amount, large or small, to The MomsTEAM Institute, the non-profit organization we established late last year to run MomsTEAM.com and the Smart Team program. Your donations will not just allow us to continue to act as an independent, trusted source of objective information and advice on youth sports, but to do much more to keep our kids safe playing sports, so that next year, on Mother's Day, I can hopefully say that some of the wishes in my annual list have come true!
Thanks to all of you for supporting MomsTEAM, and remember this Mother's Day, as you watch your child play soccer, baseball, lacrosse, tennis, softball, or whatever sport they are playing this spring, that they need to Play Smart To Be Safe.