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What Do Mothers Want from Youth Sports?

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In two days, espnW and the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Project will co-host an espnW: Women + Sports Summit at which they will report the results of a survey in which a nationally representative sample of moms were asked what they wanted and needed for their kids from youth sports. At the conclusion of the summit, a group of thought leaders will react to the survey findings and explore issues facing both moms and their daughters in sports during a Project Play roundtable .

While I will not be able to participate in the roundtable, it is probably just as well because, with MomsTEAM Institute's SmartTeams Play Safe summit in Boston in my rear view mirror, I am devoting all my energies the rest of the fall sports season to working with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of certified athletic trainers at the grass roots level on our SmartTeamTM pilot program, which is helping parents, coaches, administrators, and more than 800 athletes in youth football programs in six states play safe by being smart.

Besides, with 15 years under my belt listening to parents, particularly but not exclusively moms, and having written an entire book exploring the subject of what moms want from youth sports, I don't need a national survey to know what sports moms want. I am willing to bet you do, too, especially if you've spent any time over the years visiting MomsTEAM.

Brooke de Lench with mothers in Newcastle OK

So I guess I am wondering, why a poll, why yet another roundtable? The answers to those questions are less clear. I do know that there are more and more sports organizations and politicians who now at least say they are listening to what moms are saying they want from youth sports, including President Barack Obama, himself the parent of two athletic daughters. Having spent a great deal of my time in 2012, including two trips to New York City, consulting with the National Football League on why they needed to pay more attention to the concerns of sports mothers if the league wanted youth football to survive, I wasn't the least bit surprised that, at a youth sports concussion summit the President hosted at the White House back in May - one which appeared to me to have been little more than a 'dog and pony show' orchestrated by the National Football League and USA Football - the roundtable moderator, Fox's NFL sideline reporter, Pam Oliver - herself a concussion victim - acknowledged the importance of sports moms: "In a nutshell," said Oliver, "you need to get the mom vote - when the moms are educated and they look at the risks ..., they start to see there is something they can take charge of ..."

The men in attendance that day at the White House didn't disagree with Oliver's assessment. "We know that as dads put[ting] this information in the hands [of moms] is a critical thing we need to do," said Gerard Gioia, PhD,  Division Chief of Neuropsychology and the Director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program at Children's National Health System.

While many men may see moms as what the Aspen Sports Institute characterizes as "gatekeepers", what we as women and moms know is that our primary role is as what I have long called the "guardians of children at play." 

So, will a poll and a roundtable help? Perhaps. A poll done correctly, asking the correct questions, should help continue to validate and bring some additional awareness to what we as most mothers, most women, already know.