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Empowering Women To Take More Active Role in Youth Sports

Guardians of Children at Play

While much has changed, what has not changed is the hardwired instinct of mothers to want to nurture and protect their children from harm.  But instead of continuing to serve as the primary guardians of our children at play – hanging out a city window to check on our kids’ play in the street below, or looking into the backyard to monitor a group of ten-year old kids playing touch football – today’s mothers are usually found sitting in the stands, working behind the concession counter selling snacks and raffle tickets, working as team administrators, or chauffeuring their kids to and from practice and games. 

The puzzling absence of women coaches in youth sports, as Scott Lancaster, former director of the National Football League’s youth football program, noted in his book, Fair Play: Making Organized Sports a Great Experience for Your Kid, is “clearly one of the most backward traditions in sports today.”  Yet, as a recent study and upcoming book on the subject find, sadly, the male-dominated culture of sports, outdated gender stereotypes,  and overt and unconscious sexist attitudes still conspire to thwart the efforts of women to break into the coaching ranks at the youth and college level. 

The 3 o’clock e-mail

Not surprisingly, the uncomfortable feeling many mothers have that they could do something about our runaway youth sports culture if only given the chance to be more than team moms is reflected in the e-mails I receive at MomsTeam; many from mothers who wake up in the middle night worried sick not only about what sports are doing to their kids but to themselves; e-mails seeking advice about what, if anything, they can do about it. 

The thousands upon thousands of e-mails I have received from sports mothers over the years suggest that:

  • While our daughters are participating in athletics in ever greater numbers, many mothers are struggling to find ways to have their voices heard, for youth sports to reflect their values and concerns as much as those of men. 
  • Despite the fact that more and more mothers grew up in a post-Title IX world that provided many of them the chance to play sports that were simply not available to an earlier generation of women (like me), like their children’s fathers, many have been intimidated by those who hold positions of power in youth sports into believing that they don’t know enough about sports to warrant moving from the stands to the coaching sidelines or on to a league’s board of directors.  As a recent study reported, many men simply laugh at the thought of women coaching youth sports teams and simply assume that it is the job of men to coach and assume leadership positions and for women to work behind the scenes in the supporting role as team moms.
  • Mothers know intuitively that they should be doing everything possible to protect their children from the pressures of the adult world, not intentionally exposed, as is so often the case in today’s youth sports, to those often harsh realities at ever earlier ages.  Taught by the media and radical feminists to be ashamed about their maternal, nurturing and intuitive side, mothers are too often afraid to follow and act on their intuition even though it tells them that a youth sports system which too often emphasizes winning and competition over fun and skill development, treats children as young as six as adults and cruelly and unfairly saddles so many as failures before they have even reached puberty because they weren’t lucky enough to be “early bloomers” or have a January birthday, is not the kind of nurturing, caring and, above all, inclusive environment mothers believe their children need to grow into confident, competent, empathetic, emotionally and psychologically healthy adults.
  • Many mothers are afraid their children will be ostracized if they criticize the status quo, if they try to protect their children against a runaway youth sports system that injures, and unfairly classifies and excludes, more and more kids each year, or if they push to become coaches;
  • Many are getting 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 success in sports, even though they know that it means adding fuel to an already out-of-control fire that is burning up our children and leaving them with life-long psychological and physical scars.  As former Time columnist Amy Dickinson put it, too many mothers “go to bed at night wondering if we can pinpoint the moment we became our dads.”