Being the mother of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. At momsTEAM we think sports moms deserve to be honored, not just on the second Sunday in May, but for an entire month. So we have designated May as National Sports Moms Month and invited some veteran sports moms to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions. We will post a new blog for every day of May, which we hope you will find interesting, empowering, and informative, and that you will share them with your family and friends.
Today we hear from Barbara Bleiweis, a working mom of two teenagers, high school basketball official, youth sports reform advocate and momsTEAM blogger from McLean, Virginia.
momsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)?
Bleiweis: I played intramural and recreation league sports primarily, since schools were limited in their offering of scholastic teams for girls. I played tennis, softball, volleyball, to the extent that I could find teams on which to play. I was in minority of girls who preferred sports over shopping, boys and make-up, although that eventually changed! I discovered that I loved competing and playing on a team, and I loved the feeling of achievement as I improved in what ever sport I was playing. Since my participation was-self initiated and at the recreation level only, there was no coach involved, no mentor per se to help me develop as a player. There were formal tennis programs available, but I did not have the courage to sign up and learn. In hindsight, my fear of failing was greater than my desire to achieve. Now, almost 2 decades later, I recognized and worked to overcome this self-defeating obstacle and have demonstrated a better example to my children of the value of the pursuit of excellence and that the journey, in all its trials and travail, trumps fear of failing any day of the week.
momsTEAM: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports mom?
Bleisweis: Watching my children develop life skills through sports - especially their ability to work as a team player and deal with success and disappointment in life's situations - has been my greatest joy. Both my children played youth sports and scholastic sports. My son played junior varsity and varsity sports. In each team setting, my son adjusted his role, either becoming a team leader or a team supporter. But one thing that never changed was his undying support of his team, no matter if he started every game or never got off the bench. His team spirit was so remarkable that other parents and coaches would comment on it. He never outwardly complained about playing time, even though I, as a sports mom, was bothered by the lack of court time he got. My silence was rewarded by witnessing his growth in confidence and inner strength. He was recognized as JV Player of the Year during his junior year for the leadership he demonstrated to his coaches and players. And he was not even a starter. The girls varsity coach was so impressed with my son's intensity and knowledge of the sport that he enlisted him to assist his team during daily practices, which evolved into what was effectively an assistant coach position.
My daughter's experience was different. She played travel basketball and freshman/ jv volleyball. She did not start. She did not make the varsity volleyball team, which in hindsight, was one of the more pivotal events of her life - and mine, as a sports mom. While getting cut from varsity was a tearful, and somewhat devastating experience, the sting of disappointment was short-lived. Within days, she congratulated her friends who did make the team and re-focused her energy towards what has become her passion: Yearbook, In fact, she thrived. She was ultimately selected as one of four co-Editors-in-Chief. One of her responsibilities is to ensure her staff covers the sports program. In this leadership role, she now attends the games, cheers for her friends, and immortalizes their experiences in her school's award-winning yearbook. This serendipitous outcome was seeded by disappointment, and allowed to blossom by my daughter's determination and positive outlook.
momsTEAM: What lesson has your sports active child taught you?
Bleiweis: My kids taught me the importance of being silent and positive as a sideline parent. They taught me the power of focusing on the positive aspects of a game they won and games they lost, and learning to move on. I learned these lessons by observing my kids not just during games, but particularly during the post-game sessions, at which parents were invited by the coaches to listen, but NOT speak. On those occasions, I was impressed by the emphasis the coaches placed on what the team did RIGHT, what they needed to work on, with little to no emphasis on the score. I learned that the kids could "let go" of a win or loss very quickly after a game, and that dwelling on the game was often parent-initiated. While the coach may have been speaking to the players, I feel that they were also speaking to me, as I have learned to absorb my own life's wins and losses, to see the positive in situations, and move on.
momsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?
Bleiweis: Two things:
- I would make the training of coaches an integral and mandatory part of every youth sports program. The training would be comprehensive, covering coaching philosophies, first aid, legal issues, sport parenting and safety. There are many coaching courses already in existence, but few if any are affordable for youth leagues. Those programs that do provide training usually don't make them mandatory. It also seems that coaching training is considered a one-time thing, or involves, at most, a one hour session annually. My vision would be to give these adults an opportunity to develop as coaches and institutionalize the coaching experience as a credential that is earned, recognized professionally, by anyone who wishes to become a coach, regardless of league skill or age level. Such coaching programs already exist in many states and are mandatory for high school coaches. The need for this kind of training is as important, if not more so at the recreational and youth league level, where kids' first experience with sports is heavily influenced by a volunteer mom or dad, armed with good intentions, a flexible work schedule and varying levels of sports knowledge, but no coaching knowledge or experience. Indeed, any coaching knowledge tends to be focused on game drills and strategies only.
- In addition to coaching training, I would like to see more high school kids become coaches, especially of younger kids in "house" or recreational leagues. High school teens who coach create a very different interpersonal dynamic than the one established by parent coaches. Very often, I have observed youth-coached teams have more fun and are less stressful because the teen coaches are motivated differently than their adult/parent counterparts. The parent/child relationship, in many cases, is replaced by a big brother/ little brother dynamic. Whether the team wins or loses become less important than trying their best and having fun. I witnessed this for several years as my son coached a house league team. The players AND their parents were so pleased with my son's coaching, they emailed me stating their delight at how much fun their child was having and learning from my son.
Observing my son's behavior as a positive coach was not the only example supporting my thesis. As a basketball official, I had the opportunity to watch other teen coaches. The demeanor of the players and they way they interacted with me was very different than with players who were coached by their parents. The teen coaches often laughed and joked with me and their players. By contrast, their adult coach counterparts frowned, complained or said little if anything to me. And in both instances, the players mimicked the coach's behavior. So, as a sports parent, on which team would I prefer to have my child play? I look forward to the day when most youth league programs are administered by adults, and coached by responsible teens.
For Barbara's blog, The Patient Whistle, click here.