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Empowering Women To Take More Active Role in Youth Sports

A Christmas e-mail

I will never forget one Christmas Day receiving an e-mail from Sam, a well known former professional athlete.  He was struggling to understand why this website was directed to sports mothers.  He asked me whether assigning certain characteristics to men and women was to “skate on thin ice,” as he believed youth sports could be made “safer, saner, less stressful and more inclusive” (the MomsTeam mission) only if “all points of view [were] embraced and seriously considered.”  Sam wanted to know how I saw the “pieces of the puzzle fitting together to get a complete picture.”

I wasn’t prompted to keep the e mail because it came from a prominent former professional athlete, but because it came from someone who not only knew that a big piece was missing from the youth sports puzzle but, without even realizing it, what that missing piece was: the views, concerns and more active participation of youth sports mothers, not just as team moms but in leadership positions as coaches and administrators.

What most sports mothers want 

What, then, do sports mothers want?  What are their concerns? 

From the tens of thousands of e-mails I have received over the last 12 years, from my conversations with mothers all across the country, including the mothers of many Olympic athletes, I believe that, First, and foremost, the vast majority of mothers (and many fathers, of course) just want to make youth sports fun again, to know that everything possible is being done to protect their children from injury and abuse and given a chance to play until they graduate high school; that if it is no longer safe for our children to learn baseball or soccer on their own on the neighborhood sandlot, the organized sports program in which we enroll our child – the “village” – will protect them and keep them safe while they are entrusted to their care.  It isn’t just the safety of our own children we care about: as mothers we care about the well-being of all children.

Second, I am convinced that many mothers (and forward-thinking fathers) believe the time as come to challenge the assumption that, for better or worse, competition in youth sports must defined solely or even primarily in terms of winning and losing, and displays of power, dominance and control.  Instead, many want our children to learn that while competition is healthy and necessary (at least after they have developed a mature understanding of what competition means at around age twelve), a successful competition is one where all players contribute, do their best, and respect their teammates, opponents and the rules.

Third, I believe many mothers want the culture of youth sports to include a mother’s perspective and celebrate the values of women as much as men.  As natural communicators and nurturers, mothers, I believe, are in the best position to inspire coaches, parents, athletic directors, school boards, and local and national youth sports organizations to do more to keep children safe, to balance competition with cooperation and connectedness, and to think about sports not just as a place to showcase the gifted and talented but as a place where all of our children can begin a love affair with sports and physical exercise lasting a lifetime, instead of ending, as too often is the case, in burnout in early adolescence