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Reforming Youth Sports: Community, Grass-Roots Parent Activism Needed

Ask for parent training. Parents who have been trained are better able to handle the stress of watching their child compete without losing their cool, and understand the advantages of mission statements and team charters and how they can not only prevent conflicts from developing between and among parents, coaches and youth sports officials, but restore the balance between winning and skill development. When everyone involved understands in advance that the one of the rules of a particular program is equal playing time, parents won't need to scream at the coach to put their child in the game and the coach won't be under pressure to play only the "best" players.

Use the power of the purse. Women are responsible for ninety percent of a family's primary shopping and write eighty percent of the checks. Use the power of the purse to:

  • Support companies and programs that reflect your values.
  • Shop at stores that carry sports apparel for girls and companies that sponsor women's sports.
  • Buy products from companies that underwrite youth sports reform initiatives. It can make a difference.

As Sports Authority CEO Martin Hanaka told Forbes after a comprehensive survey of Sports Authority stores and shoppers found that women aged 25 to 45 contributed 70 cents of every dollar spent, whether the purchase was footwear, fishing equipment or Little League gear, "Mom is pivotal."

Re-examine Title IX. As a number of recent books argue, Title IX, as it is presently interpreted, isn't working. True, an amazing amount of good has come to girls from the passage of Title IX. The tragedy, however, is that the law has increased athletic opportunities for women at the college level by eliminating opportunities for men. Something is wrong when colleges have a difficult time finding female athletes to fill teams while many men (especially wrestlers) are being deprived of the opportunity to continue playing college sports in the name of gender equity. The law also has appeared to have given female high school athletes an unfair advantage in the college admission process. Although a full discussion of the inadequacies and inequities of Title IX are beyond the scope of this book, this is an issue that is not going to go away. As Jessica Gavora argues, if boys and girls are hard wired differently, "it is time to take a serious look at a federal anti-discrimination law that has come to assume exactly the opposite."

Establish a youth sports council and use the power of the permit. In most places, youth sports organizations (YSOs) don't own their own facilities; they use taxpayer-funded fields, diamonds, tracks, pools, and courts instead. In order to use them they have to obtain permits. This makes them subject to public oversight by the permit-issuing authority, in most instances the town or municipality's parks and recreation department, which should establish guidelines to govern their issuance.

One of the most effective ways to start a community dialog about establishing guidelines to govern the issuance of permits to YSOs is to establish a youth sports task force with representatives from a broad cross section of the community participating in a series of forums to address the question "Are we doing the best that we can for our children with our current sports program?"

Addressing this question will inevitably raise such issues as early specialization, the appropriate age for sports cuts and competitive tryouts, the best way to recruit and train paid and/or volunteer coaches, the stratification of children based on their perceived abilities and skill level, background checks, the way independent YSOs interact and co-exist with and relate to school-based programs, and how permits are issued to use town-owned facilities.

To promote a community dialog and make the process as inclusive as possible, task force representatives can attend PTA meetings in elementary schools, hold a community-wide forum, and develop a survey to send to residents to allow every interested person an opportunity to express his or her opinion.

The objective of the meetings should be to develop an independent Youth Sports Council and a youth sports charter for adoption by the community governing the use of publicly owned facilities. Any YSO that utilizes public facilities should then be required to adhere to guidelines in the Youth Sports Charter or be denied their use.

Vietnam War-era protesters asked the government to return "Power to the People." The time has come in the 2000's for the silent majority of parents in this country who want a youth sports system that serves the interests of children, not adults to stand up and ask their elected officials to return the "Power of the Permit" to the people. It may be the best way to achieve reform and accountability.


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