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Nancy Hogshead-Makar (Olympic Medalist & Women's Sports Advocate): For Kids Under 12 Sports Not About Winning

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Being the mother of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. So momsTEAM designated May as Sports Moms Month and has celebrated by asking some of our favorite sports moms to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions.

We have heard from a fascinating range of sports moms, from a mom of an Olympic athlete to a bunch of moms who were themselves Olympic athletes, from a moms of former minor league baseball players and NCAA Division 1 basketball players to a Minnesota hockey mom and author, from a sports nutritionist to an award-winning health and safety reporter.

Today, we hear from Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, law professor, Title IX expert, and longtime advocate for women's athletics through her work with the Women's Sports Foundation:

MomsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)?

Hogshead-Makar: I played all sorts of sports - swimming, gymnastics, dance, tennis -- until age 11. Then my family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where I joined a swimming team with a terrific coach, Randy Reese. I was world-ranked by 13, and spend 8 years on the national team before winning three gold medals and one silver medal at the 1984 Olympics. Nancy Hogshead-Makar and kids

MomsTEAM: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports mom?

Hogshead-Makar: Watching them have fun with their buddies! A distant second is the sense of pride they get when they tell people, "I'm a soccer player."

Finally, I know that getting my kids into sports and keeping them there is one of the best decisions a parent will make.  While my kids do it for the fun, Women's Sports Foundation's research on the life-long benefits of a sports experience give parents even more motivation to schlep kids to those practices.

Contrary to the "dumb jock" myth, interscholastic sports participation provides both boys and girls from diverse socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds measurable positive educational impacts. Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, found that it's not just that kids who were already destined to do well play sports, but that it is sports participation that actually leads to more education and higher incomes - for both boys and girls.  In addition, a sports experience changes a girls' health trajectory; including heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, tobacco and drug use, unwanted teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, depression and suicide. To date, the very best known protection from obesity into adulthood is a high school sports experience. Can I get a "wow!"?

MomsTEAM: What lesson has your sports active child taught you?

Hogshead-Makar: To let their sports experiences be their own. This means following their lead as to what they need, not what I would have needed, and not what I think they need. For example, I liked it when my parents cheered for me, but my 11-year-old doesn't.  It distracts him and embarrasses him, and I have to respect it when he asked me to stop. Can you imagine? So I cheer for his teammates, and he likes that.

MomsTEAM: What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?

Hogshead-Maker: That once you start something, you finish the season. That being in a bad mood on a particular Thursday isn't a reason to stop ... at anything.  Just take your bad mood with you to practice. Usually it changes the minute he sees his friends. We are starting to talk about his role in making the team positive.

MomsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?

Hogshead-Makar: If I could flip a switch and change one thing, it would be focusing on teaching and building good skills, rather than just getting money from parents' pockets.  As Tom Farrey argues in his book, Game On, for kids under the age of 12 sports should not be about winning, not about competing, not about year-round. 

For example, when I was 10 my mom said to my coach, "If you push her, I bet she can break the 10&U record for this event."  And my coach said, "if I push her, she'll get burned out and quit."  So I never broke the record, but I did stay in my sport until I was 22.

If my memory serves me, before I was 12 I only competed four times a year. My son has been competing every weekend at every sport he's played. I got very good explicit stroke training at every practice and fun drills designed to help me "feel" the water. My son rarely gets that sort of direct skill-feedback. I've been told to get that, he needs to get private lessons. My 6-year-old twin daughters took gymnastics for a year and were not taught how to do a cartwheel. When I was 6 I was learning back-handsprings. Yet there was no pressure on winning or on what others were doing. I spent a lot of time at my sports, but didn't get "serious" until about age 12, with two workouts a day, lifting weights, running, the works - which is still probably a little early.

MomsTEAM: Brag a little-what have you done to make sports better for kids? Please share.

Hogshead-Makar: See my bio (below)! Making sports better for kids is a big part of my life's work. 

Nancy Hogshead-Makar is a former Olympic swimming great (earning three gold and one silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics), Professor of Law at the Florida Coastal School of Law, and one of the nation's foremost experts on gender equity in education, including sports participation, sexual harassment, employment, pregnancy, and legal enforcement under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Her book, Equal Play, Title IX and Social Change, co-authored with Andrew Zimbalist, has received acclaim since its release by Temple University Press, and she was was the lead author of Pregnant and Parenting Student-Athletes; Resources and Model Policies published by the NCAA.

Professor Hogshead-Makar has been involved with the Women's Sports Foundation for the past twenty-six years, starting as a college intern, then serving as its third President from 1992-94 and its legal advisor from 2003-10, and currently as its Senior Director of Advocacy.

She has testified in Congress numerous times on the topic of gender equity in athletics, written numerous scholarly and lay articles, and has been a frequent guest on national news programs on the topic, including 60 Minutes, Fox News, CNN, ESPN, NPR and network morning news programming. She serves as an expert witness in Title IX cases and has written amicus briefs representing athletic organizations in precedent-setting litigation. Since 2003 she has been the Co-Chair of American Bar Association Committee on the Rights of Women.  In 2007 Sports Illustrated listed her as one of the most influential people in the 35-year history of Title IX, and she was recently selected by ESPN The Magazine as a woman who will change the way sports are played.

Among the many awards Nancy has received in recognition of her commitment to athletics are an honorary doctorate from Springfield College, induction into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame and the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame, membership in the Hall of Fame for the National Association for Sports and Physical Education, and receipt of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators' "Honor Award".  In 2011 she was presented with the National Organization for Women's "Courage Award," and was inducted into the National Consortium for Academics and Sports Hall of Fame.