Playing from the Same Playbook on Concussions

It is my belief that parents have a right to expect, when they entrust their children to a sports program - whether it be Pee Wee hockey, youth lacrosse, Olympic development soccer, or high school football - that it will take reasonable precautions to protect them against harm. In other words, parents have a right to expect that the entire team to whom they entrust their children's safety - including the national governing body for the child's sport, the state association, the athletic or club director, the athletic trainer (if there is one), and especially the coaches - are part of the concussion solution, not part of the problem.

That they will witness their child suffering a serious injury playing sports is a parent's worst nightmare. Like the vast majority of parents, the possibility of injury was always in the back of my mind when I watched my children play sports.

But because the signs and symptoms of concussions are not obvious as a broken leg or a sprained ankle and are often very subtle, because most don't involve a loss of consciousness, and because self-reporting by athletes is critical to the detection and treatment of concussions, the only way parents can sit in the stands without worrying sick about what might happen if their son or daughter suffers a concussion is if they know the program, and especially the coach, takes concussions very seriously and that every member of the team is using the same playbook.

Average: 5 (1 vote)

Increasing Cynicism of Younger Coaches Is Disturbing Trend

In his monthly column on youth sports heroes, Doug Abrams highlights two high school baseball pitchers who refused to follow their coach's instructions to intentionally throw at the head of a batter.  

His article highlights one high school baseball coach but proves two larger points. 

Coach celebrating with team with high fivesThe first is that while the vast majority of youth sports coaches strongly agreed that teaching sportsmanship was a major part of their job and with the statement "Coaches have a responsibility to help members of their team become better people, not just better athletes" 1 some coaches appear to be doing a poor job of teaching sportsmanship and moral reasoning.

The second is that, even where a coach not only condones but actively encourages poor sportsmanship, an athlete's values, the moral ethics he or she learns, first and foremost, from his or her parents, can carry the day.

As Michael Josephson, head of the Josephson Institutes's Center for Youth Ethics, noted in commenting on the Institutes's 2004 Sportsmanship Survey, "Too many youngsters are confused about the meaning of fair play and sportsmanship ... and have no concept of honorable competition.  As a result they engage in illegal conduct and employ doubtful gamesmanship techniques to gain a competitive advantage."  

Increasing cynicism

Sadly, it appears that the problem is getting worse not better, and, in a sign that does not bode well for the future, that the younger the coach, the more likely he or she is to possess cynical attitudes about the necessity of cheating to succeed.

Indeed, a 2009 online survey by the Josephson Institute for Sports Ethics of 1,250 members of the American Baseball Coaches Association, including coaches at the college, high school, club and youth level, found that coaches 25 to 40 were four times more likely than coaches over 50 and twice as likely as coaches 41-49 to believe that "in today's society, one has to lie and cheat, at least occasionally, to succeed." 

Josephson found that such "cynical coaches" (those who believe that cheating is necessary to success) are substantially more likely to lie, cheat, or engage in dubious gamesmanship strategies than those who don't, and that the younger the coach the more likely they are to engage in such behavior.

The survey found that coaches 24 or younger are:

  • More than three times more likely than coaches 50+ to believe it's proper to fight fire with fire in terms of illegal recruiting (8% v. 3%);
  • More than two times more likely to instruct their pitchers to throw at or dangerously close to an opposing batter who hit a home run the last time at bat (10% versus 5%);
  • Six times more likely to instruct their pitcher to hit an opposing batter because one of their batters was hit in the previous inning (35% v. 6%);
  • More than three times more likely to provoke an umpire to throw them out to fire up their team (69% v. 18%);
  • Eighteen more likely to make the visitor's locker room too hot or too cold to gain an advantage (18% v. 1%); and
  • Three times more likely to teach their players to make a trapped ball look caught to fool umpires (73% v. 25%).

In an environment in which winning is paramount, children may internalize the value that it is acceptable to do anything to win, even if means cheating, bullying teammates, breaking the rules, intentionally injuring an opponent, or faking an injury to get a time-out or break in the action to rest.

Learning values starts at home

Part of the problem may also be our culture - a society in which too many professional athletes exhibit poor sportsmanship - so it's even more important that coaches, parents, officials and youth sports organizations do a better job of teaching moral behavior to athletes.

As a society we would not find it acceptable if teachers encouraged their students to cheat on tests (which, sadly, is rampant these days, with 59% admitting in a 2010 Josephson survey to cheating on a test during the last year, with a third cheating more than twice). 

Youth sports should be no different. Programs to teach athletes moral ethics and to help coaches teach athletes fair play and sportsmanship should be instituted or expanded in every community and should include such topics as leadership, teamwork, respecting opposing players, cheating and the consequences of off-the-field behavior.

Ultimately, of course, part of the problem may be that children are not being taught moral values by their parents at home.  As the youth sports heroes in Abrams' column show, where athletes bring strong values and solid ethics to the playing field, they will be more likely to have the courage to stand up to a coach who doesn't share those values.

When they aren't, they are much more likely to fall victim to the increasing cynicism of today's coaches, with untold consequences for sport and the moral fabric of American society. 

1. Shields D, LaVoi N, Power F.C. The Sport Behavior of Youth, Parents, and Coaches: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Journal of Research in Character Ed. 2005; 3(1):43-59. 

Average: 4 (1 vote)

Bruins' Stanley Cup and Father's Day: Remembering My Dad

My dad has been gone for close to twenty years now, yet this Father's Day week he is closer to my heart than he has been in many years.

If he were still alive, II am sure we would have been sharing in the excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs over the past few weeks, culminating in the Bruins' victory over the Vancouver Canucks last night in Game 7. 

It was an excitement we shared 39 years ago when the Bruins last won the Cup.  Since he was born in 1925, he was alive for all of the other Cup victories by the B's in 1929, 1939, 1941, 1970 and 1972.

Cow bells

The Boston Bruins were the first professional team to which my dad introduced me. I recall fondly, as a four year old, sitting on his lap, barely being able to ring the cow bells that he and my mother took to home games back when I was a young kid then. For many years, he had season tickets to the Bruins games at the old Boston Garden, and he made sure that his girls grew up to be fans.

In fact, when asked how I wanted to celebrate my birthdays in mid-February, I always chose to attend the Bruins games with a few of my friends. My dad was happy to oblige, and always managed to get us some of the best seats in the house.

A three-sport captain (football, hockey and baseball) and standout athlete at the Riverdale School in the Bronx, New York and at Reading (MA) High, my dad was ready to sign a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox when he graduated in 1944, but elected to serve his country instead; joining the Navy and serving on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard in the war in the Pacific. While baseball was his best sport (he played both pitcher and catcher, and had a no-hitter for Riverdale), he was also a hockey goalie and a talented linebacker on his football team. USS Bon Homme Richard

I often wondered if he missed not having a son to pass his love of sports on to. He claims that he never did and that he loved teaching and playing sports with his daughters. If it wasn't throwing a football or a baseball in the backyard along with all the neighbor kids, it was pond hockey, skiing, swimming, golf, paddle tennis, tennis, water skiing or horseback riding. He wanted us to be strong with a solid foundation of exercise and sports, and what better place than in the outdoors.  

Dads play special role

So, as the nation celebrates Father's Day, I will be thinking of Dad and how much he would have enjoyed the Bruins' victory in the Stanley Cup.

Thanks, Dad, for all that you did for me. 


Charlie Brown Teaches Us All Life Lessons Through Sports

Somehow I missed the Facebook message to post a picture of your favorite cartoon character. Or, perhaps the message was which cartoon character are you most like? I will pick the former.

So, Charlie Brown gets my vote.

I love that he loves sports, and that the most important thing for him is that he just wants to play and he wants his friends to have a chance to play. He has learned so many lessons along the way. What loss and failure feels like. What winning meant to him as well as to the losing players. He also learned the very important lesson of being a patient yet persistent and hopeful athlete. How many times did he wish that Lucy would not pull the football away from him as he went to kick a field goal or the stars? Lucy pulls football away from Charlie Brown again

And, who can forget Charlie reporting for baseball Opening Day during a snow storm? Ah, the simple life lessons kids in sports can teach us all.

Which cartoon character gets your vote? Who is your favorite sports cartoon character?

E-mail your selections to

Average: 5 (1 vote)

What Did I Win by Playing Sports? National Rally for Girls Sports Day is Today

To address the discrimination in athletics that girls still face in high schools across the country the National Women's Law Center has launched the "Rally for Girls' Sports: She'll Win More Than a Game" campaign. As part of the campaign, I was invited to participate and to write a blog about the advantages of athletics participation and how it has affected me in my life by answering the question, "What did you win by playing sports?"

As those who have read my articles and blogs on, heard me speak around the country, on radio or television, or read my op eds or book, Home Team Advantage, know, I have often used personal stories from my past in my work advocating for safer, saner, less stressful and more inclusive youth sports.

But of all the of my memories of my years as a young athlete, lessons learned, friendships made, severe injuries overcome, and physical stamina and endurance gained, the one I remember most vividly was about the time I was kicked off of my freshman field hockey team for attending a Halloween dance the night before the last game of the season. I didn't know it at the time, but, looking back, it was the most important lesson I ever learned through sports; one I have carried through my life: that sometimes when you think you have lost, you have actually won.Brooke de Lench at Fenway Winter Hockey Classic

There were few opportunities for an athletic teenage girl growing up in the 1960's to play team sports in the days before the enactment of Title IX. So, when I finally got to high school and could follow in my older sister's footsteps and tryout for the junior varsity field hockey team, I was over the moon.

The summer before I started ninth grade, I practiced dribbling a hockey ball for hours every day so I would not only make the team but be able to play well in the games. There were no camps, clinics, private instructors or elementary school programs to prepare me for field hockey tryouts in the little New England seaside town where I grew up. I was on my own, but determined to be a productive member of a high school team.

I made the team along with twenty or so other freshman girls. Each of us was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to play on our high school team, which, year after year, won the state championships. Our coach, Miss Brooks, was a drill sergeant and did not seem to care much for any of us. She was also the coach of the varsity girls team and, understandably, spent the bulk of her time coaching and training them. She left most of the coaching of our team to her, assistant, Miss Hibbett, whose job it was to prepare us to be varsity players.

Coach Brooks was a no-nonsense coach. She rarely smiled and had very strict rules that she distributed to us on mimeograph paper and drilled into our heads with constant verbal reminders. No gum chewing, no detentions, no cigarette smoking etc.

We had a good season and were looking forward to joining the varsity the next fall. There was an abundance of talent on the team. We expected to not only make the varsity but be its next stars. At the same time, we were very careful to follow Coach Brook's rules, scared to death of the consequences that would befall us if we dared to defy her authority. Naturally, we all looked up to the varsity players, especially the starters. After all, our field hockey program was the pride of the school.

The week before Halloween, which fell on a Monday my freshman year, we were informed about a new rule: No player would be permitted to attend the Halloween school dance because there was a game on Tuesday. We were crestfallen. It was our first year of high school and our first school dance, and the Halloween dance was all we had talked about for weeks.

Where did Coach Brooks' edict come from? It was not on our rule sheet! Certainly, we all agreed, it wasn't a fair rule, and, if we all went to the dance together, she wouldn't enforce it, would she? And besides, how would she ever know if we attended? And if she did find out, we figured, we would be let off with a stern reprimand. She wouldn't kick us off of the team. Or so we thought.

So we went. Eighteen of us; along with a couple of sophomore girls from the junior varsity. We were having the time of our lives when my then-best friend, Lisa, ran up to me and said, "Oh, my god! Coach Brooks is here!" "Run for the bathroom," she said. The word travelled quickly, but some of the players never got off the dance floor before Coach Brooks bellowed their names (right in front of the seniors and all the boys!): "Holly, you are off the team. Kaki, you are off the team. Wendy, off the team, Heidi, off the team, Lucy, you are off the team!"

And then she made her way to the girl's bathroom. By that time Lisa had come up with the idea to hide under all the coats that were piled up on the floor outside the stalls. I was safely hidden, or so I thought, in one of the bathroom stalls, along with three other girls.

Suddenly, Coach Brooks burst through the stall door and began rattling off our names followed with "YOU ARE OFF THE TEAM."

On her way out she spotted Lisa under the coats. "Lisa, you forgot to cover your feet. YOU ARE OFF THE TEAM!"

We were all ordered to the Principal's office and told to call our parents to come pick us up. Then, through our tears, we realized that there were two players missing. The "twins" were not in the room. Where were the twins? Had there mother already come to pick them up?

Back home, crying and devastated, the phone lines were jammed with angry parents, confused team mates and three baffling questions: Why couldn't we go to a school dance, how does coach have the right to deny us the right to participate in a school function and where were the twins? None of us had been able to reach them on the phone.

The next day, we walked around school with our heads down and eyes red from crying. Life was not fair, we let our team down, and it would soon become a whole lot less fair when we realized that the Twins had not been caught and apparently were the only girls at the dance who had avoided the wrath of Coach Brooks. Our mothers were quick to suggest that it was probably because their mother was the president of the boosters club and a close friend with Coach Brooks.

The following season only three of the freshman girls (now sophomores) showed up for field hockey tryouts. Most of my friends were forever turned off from sports by the politics, saying "we won't play for a coach who is not fair, who knew the twins were at the dance yet never kicked them off the team." During the tryouts, two of the girls dropped off, claiming it was too much work and could not be around the coach and the twins who refused to kick themselves off the team the previous fall after the Halloween Massacre.

I was the lone sophomore left from the group of rebels to continue playing. I had a true desire to excel and loved the sport. Coach Brooks never spoke to me during my sophomore year and only once during my junior year when she said, "Congratulations, you have made varsity." I continued to excel and knew that I was playing for myself and my teammates and not for my coach, who continued to demonstrate poor sportsmanship and act improperly. In my senior year, I became team captain; we had an undefeated season and we went on to become win the Massachusetts State Championship. Life was good.

I learned a lot of lessons from Coach Brooks, almost all of them lessons about what not to do as a coach, which I put to good use (or non-use, as the case may be) during the years that I coached. I learned how not to play favorites. I learned how not to let politics get in the way of fairness. I learned how to win through persistence and hard work and never-say-die attitude.

They were lessons that I have carried throughout my life and have used as a springboard to become a leading youth sports expert, activist, author and founder of to educate and empower parents to become the very best advocates for their young athletes, to fight the politics and favoritism, and to keep them from being physically, sexually and emotionally abused.

Because of all the tough sports lessons I have encountered along the way, I have become a winner in many ways, whether running my corporation, writing or parenting my sons, I know which shoals to avoid and which to teach others about, and I know that politics is a very destructive part of life but from those early experiences I have become a stronger and more productive individual and  parent. I win every time young sports parents from around the country take the time to thank me for making their lives better and for providing solutions to real life problems.

Average: 5 (2 votes)

Assaults on Youth Sports Referees: When Will They Stop?

Every day when I come to work one of the first things I do is check the e-mails I get from parents and coaches all across the country with stories from newspapers about youth sports, including one from Moms Team expert, Doug Abrams.

Most days Doug's e-mail reprints articles on a wide variety of youth sports topics, from acts of sportsmanship of the kind he writes about in his monthly column for MomsTeam on youth sports heroes, to articles about the tragic deaths of youth athletes - like Wes Leonard, who suffered sudden cardiac arrest from an undetected congenital heart condition - to a Long Island wrestler contracting and almost dying from MRSA.

Football refereeBut this morning's e-mail from Doug was different because the first three stories were all about the same thing: assaults on and abuse of youth sports referees.

First up: a column from the Winnipeg Sun about a youth hockey coach who shoved a 15-year-old referee.  The coach was suspended, but didn't get charged with assault. The incident prompted the president of Hockey Winnipeg, Don McIntosh, to send out an e-mail urging local hockey officials to help crack down on abuse against referees.

Next, another story from the same paper saying that physical and verbal attacks on hockey officials by players and coaches had reached "epidemic" levels.

The third was an article from the Daily Inter Lake of Kalispell, Montana reporting that the city attorney was considering an assault charge against a man for grabbing a 20-year veteran referee, Dave Reese, so hard following a recent high school boys' basketball game that he left marks on the referee's chest.  Not surprisingly, the man was apparently related to one of the players on the losing team.  The article recounted several other recent incidents of violence against sports officials.  

The president of the local sports officials' organization, Todd Fiske, told the newspaper that the pressure on officials lead many to quit within five years, and warned that the assault on Reese was the type of incident that harms the recruitment of new officials.  "Something like that is just so unneeded in what we do already," he told the paper. "It's a game. We can't ever let it get bigger than that."

Fiske's sentiments were echoed by Don McIntosh, the Hockey Manitoba head: "I'm told that referees are quitting because of abuse. Senior or management referees who we have in our system will tell you that.  Referees are a very valuable and important part of our game," he said. "Our game couldn't go without them."

Not surprisingly, surveys show that spectator abuse is one of the major reasons for the shortage of sports officials.

But what can be done about the abuse?

One thing states around the country are trying is to make it a crime to assault a sports official.  As MomsTeam columnist, Don Collins recently reported, there are currently nineteen states, including Montana, that make it a crime to assault a sports official, with West Virginia about to become the 20th. Unfortunately, the anecdotal reports of the assaults which continue to occur (and which continue to clog my e-mail box) and the fact that, even when there is a law on the books, it often times isn't enforced, suggests that the laws aren't working.

The real answer, of course, is to change in the culture of youth sports so that verbally or physically assaulting or abusing officials is seen by coaches, parents and players as something that simply isn't acceptable in sports.  

It's pretty simple: game officials deserve the respect of coaches, players and parents. At all times. No matter what. 

But unless and until everyone involved in youth sports is willing to take a zero tolerance approach to referee abuse, the sad fact is that I will continue to get e-mails like the ones I got today.

What do you think can be done to fight the epidemic of referee abuse? Send your thoughts to me at
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Win-Win: A Satisfying Sports-Themed Movie The Whole Family Will Enjoy

The new movie, Win-Win, should appeal to all age groups, but, may be especially appealing as a movie for grandparents to see with their sports-active teenage grand-kids.

Win-Win movie posterThe movie deals with a number of real life intergenerational issues that many families wrestle with (pun intended) - a grandfather with signs of dementia who wants to stay in his own home, a mother fighting drug addiction while trying to stay connected to her teenage son, even a young athlete facing and overcoming performance anxiety - in a way that is, at times, immensely entertaining and at others, heartbreakingly depressing. In some ways, it reminded me of The Blind Side. Like the football player in that movie, Kyle is a gifted athlete with a drug addicted, couldn't-give-a-damn mother and a deceased father, who begins to flourish when he is taken in by a caring family.

Interestingly, many in the audience the night I saw the movie were older and probably related more to "Lou" the grandfather, played by Burt Young, than to "Mike" the financially struggling forty-something lawyer and high school wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti) who volunteers to be Lou's guardian after Lou is deemed incapable of taking care of himself as he slips toward dementia, or to Kyle, Lou's sixteen-year-old wrestling grandson, who Mike takes in when he comes to visit Lou.

Some of the scenes in the movies weren't quite believable to me, so I wouldn't say Win-Win was an outstanding film, but, as a sports-themed movie I found it satisfying. The scenes were knit together quite well by a talented cast of actors who sometimes had to save the movie from being too contrived. My favorite character was "Terry" a high school wrestling teammate and Mike's best friend, who, when he realizes how talented a wrestler Kyle is, jumps on the bandwagon and becomes an assistant coach for a wrestling team, that without Kyle, had been on a long losing streak (shades of the "Bad News Bears").

Adding authenticity to the movie is the fact that Kyle is played by Alex Shaffer who, in real life, won the New Jersey state wrestling championship in 2010 when he was seventeen.

The best thing about the movie is the life lessons it teaches for all athletes. My favorite involved one of Kyle's teammates, Stemler, played with goofy charm by David W. Thompson. Inspired by Kyle's gung-ho, never-give-up attitude in the wrestling circle, Stemler finally musters the courage to overcome his fears to wrestle the pivotal match for his team. From years of watching and coaching boys' sports teams, I know that, like Stemler, some boys are fine with riding the bench as long as they can be part of a team yet never feel they are making a contribution. Stemler's story is one that both coaches and athletes will find inspiring.

I highly recommend Win-Win as a movie for the whole family to enjoy together.


Concussion Bill of Rights #2: Coaches Need To Be Part of Solution, Not the Problem

While there are many coaches who take concussions very seriously, there are still far too many in this country, from youth football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse or basketball all the way up the ladder to the professional level, who:

  • ostracize players who complain of concussion symptoms
  • challenge a player's toughness or, especially in the case of boys, their very masculinity for not shaking off concussion symptoms
  • give doctors and athletic trainers a hard time if they refuse to let a player with concussion symptoms go back into the game
  • take away a child's position in the starting lineup or reduce their playing time simply because they and their parents decided, for safety's sake, that the child should not to rush back to the field or gym because the symptoms had not yet cleared or have recurred with exercise
  • in extreme cases have even had a star player suffering symptoms don another player's jersey to get back into a game; and/or
  • value winning over safety, so much so that they are willing to risk the health of their "star" athletes for the sake of team success by employing a double standard when it comes to concussion safety - one for regular players, another, more lenient one for "stars" - which helps them justify putting a key player who has been "dinged" or "had his bell rung" back into the game.

The second point in the Parent's Concussion Bill of Rights is therefore that parents should be able to expect that their child's coach be part of the concussion solution, not the problem.

This means that a coach needs to:

  1. Actively, consistently and repeatedly encourage honest self-reporting by athletes of post-concussion symptoms, both their own and those of their teammates (such as by employing the same kind of buddy system football programs often employ to protect athletes from heat illness during hot weather practices and games).
  2. Reassure athletes that they will not jeopardize their position as a starter or place on the team if they self-report, that he will not question their toughness, call them "wimps" or "sissies," or ostracize them;
  3. Inform players that deliberate hits to another player's head will subject them to disciplinary action; and
  4. Advise athletes that they will be considered in violation of team rules, subjecting them to possible discipline from game suspensions, up to and including disqualification for the season, if they are found to have impeded appropriate evaluation and management of his own concussion by:
  • failing to report or underreport symptoms (theirs or a fellow player's);
  • intentionally underperforming on baseline neuropsychological tests in order to maximize chances of being cleared to play even with symptoms; or
  • indicating they are symptom-free so that they can return to play in the next game when they are still experiencing symptoms (which can lead to death from second impact syndrome)

      Taking these kinds of safety precautions will undoubtedly meet resistance from those concerned more about winning than about the safety of children, but parents and every other stakeholder in youth sports owe them nothing less.

      Average: 4 (1 vote)

      Grace Under Fire

      When my sons were eleven their youth baseball team had reached the championship game. There were two outs in the bottom of the sixth.  Our team was down by a run, but the bases were loaded.  Taylor, the first born of my triplet sons, was at the plate. It was a pressure-packed situation, but Taylor was the team’s leader in runs batted in and had come through in the clutch all season long. A walk would tie the game. A hit might bring in two runs and win the game.

      Ball one.  Ball two. Ball three!  One ball away from a bases-on-balls which would knot the game. Taylor swung and missed at the next two pitches.  Full count.

      The pitch was delivered. Seeing that it was low and clearly out of the strike zone, Taylor stood motionless in the batter’s box, confident that it was ball four.  The ball bounced a foot in front of home plate and skidded into the catcher’s glove. Ball four! Tie game! 

      Or so we thought.

      But wait, the umpire’s right arm came up. “Streeeike three!” he called.  Game over! The Mets were the champs.  They ran onto the field for the traditional pig pile celebration.

      Some of the parents from our team began yelling at the umpire. “Who paid you off, ump?” one screamed. “You lousy piece of `##!»,” shouted another.

      But Taylor wasn’t angry or cursing the ump as he walked away from home plate. Instead of tears or anger, he was smiling from ear to ear.  I will never forget what he said: “At least we made it to the finals! Nobody thought we would! We came in second in the league!”

      It was one of my proudest moments as a sport parent.  Taylor knew that the umpire had made a bad call; a terrible, unexplainable mistake.  Yet he rose above it and found the good in the most important game of the year.  The shouting from the angry parents came to a sudden stop. It took a child playing a kids game to show parents that winning is not at the top of a kids’ sports priority list.

      Nearly seven in ten 9- to 15-year olds in one recent survey reported having seen a fan angrily yell at an official.  Three quarters of parents and coaches have witnessed such unacceptable and verbally abusive behavior as well. 

      Such behavior can negatively effect all the players. We have all seen umpires make bad calls.  We have all felt anger on the sidelines. Character is taught to our children at home and reinforced on the playing fields. How we handle that anger and defeat is what defines our character too.

      With my three sons now having graduated college and their careers in organized team sports over, looking back is bittersweet.  The best of times were always when my children were having fun with their friends and teammates, playing sports for the pure joy of it. I have some wonderful memories of home runs hit, games won, goals scored, and sharing these experiences with my friends.

      Unfortunately, some of my memories have not been so sweet: the politics, the favoritism, the hidden expenses, the injuries, out of control parents, abusive coaches, bad officiating and finding family time.

      What I will remember for the rest of my life won’t be how many games they won or lost, but the fun they had, the times they displayed great sportsmanship and character.  My proudest moments as a sports mother came when my children handled tough calls with grace and dignity, not with cheap insults directed at referees or “trash talk” aimed at opposing players.

      When Taylor did the right thing by walking to the bench with his head held high instead of arguing with the umpire, I told him how proud I was for the way he displayed “grace under fire.”

      What was your proudest moment as a sports parent? E-mail me at


      Remembering Wyatt Cragan

      Many of my readers have asked me where I have been this summer. "What have you been doing? We miss your blogging and articles." In fact, I decided to take a two month respite from writing to focus my attention on the administrative end of the business with the intent to start my writing again after September 1st. Next week I will write more about our  foray into the iPhone app world, and the exciting changes that are in store for MomsTeam; but something has been weighing heavily on my mind all summer and now seems the appropriate time to publish my thoughts as many young people head back to school and start a new sports year.

      Over the past eight or nine years, many of you across the country have heard me mention the names Brooke and Wyatt Cragan. Brooke (Wyatt's mother) and I got to know each other quite well years back while we spent hours watching our sons play soccer and lacrosse during middle school and their first year of high school. Two sports moms sharing stories, wisdom joys and sorrows. If you have heard me speak during one of my nationwide community talks or as a keynote speaker at any of the conventions I have been asked to attend, you have probably heard the special story I tell about Brooke and Wyatt. More about that story in a minute.

      This past July 4th Wyatt died a tragic death after a freak fall in Florida. After his freshman year at the local high school, Wyatt attended Proctor Academy and then went on to St. Lawrence University. I doubt there are words that I write that will ever comfort his family in coming to grips with their loss. I hope this blog brings good memories to many.

      Wyatt was one of those wonderful kids with a smile from ear to ear even in the worst of times. A gifted athlete who embodied all that, as a parent, we wanted our "sporty" children to be: fair, fun, a collaborator, a good sport, a hard worker, and unselfish. He was the kind of kid who had the ability to lift up the spirits of his teammates; a truly perfect teammate.

      My best memories of Wyatt were from the spring he played freshman lacrosse with my son Spencer. They had the misfortune of having as their coach an extremely difficult, abusive and uneducated man who had no business being a high school lacrosse coach. The majority of the boys on the team had been playing together since they were in the fifth grade. They were destined to be one of the strongest teams in the state had they stayed together. I wrote briefly about the team in my book, Home Team Advantage, and have promised myself many times to write about more about this unique group of young boys and will make good on that promise in the next few weeks. But today I want to write about Brooke and her son, Wyatt.

      During the preseason meeting I asked the coach about his emergency plan. Coach "M" laughed at my question and shot back in a sarcastic tone these exact words: "Lacrosse is a safe sport and in my 23 years as a coach I have never seen a serious injury." I could feel the eyes in the room shift to me. I could sense that some of them were thinking to themselves, "Oh, no! Look what she's done! She's jinxed us. We're bound to have a serious injury now!" Some of them, I later learned, were looking at me to challenge the coach; which is exactly what I did. After a moment I collected my thoughts and said, "I have seen some pretty bad injuries over the years, and because the freshmen boy's lacrosse field is very far away from any telephones or other forms of communication, I am wondering: How about a ‘walky-talky'? Do you carry one? (This was before the cell phone age)." Again, the coach looked at me, laughed and said, "Who has time for walky talkies?" And it was on to the next question.

      As fate would have it, Coach "M"'s injury-free streak ended halfway through the season. The boys were playing Lexington High, which had some very big players. Wyatt had the ball when a boy double his size came over his shoulder from behind to dislodge the ball he was cradling in the pocket of his stick. The end of his stick smashed down on Wyatt's shoulder, breaking his collarbone. The break ruptured a blood vessel. It was immediately apparent that the injury was very serious, and that Wyatt needed immediate medical attention.

      What happened next was the result of pure adrenaline and a mother's instinct. Brooke looked at the coach, who was evaluating Wyatt's injury with no particular urgency. We were stuck out in the farthest field from the school without any way to communicate with the trainer or to call paramedics. Wyatt was bleeding. We all knew he needed to be transported to our local hospital right away.

      Brooke did what all smart mothers do when all else fails. She took matters into her own hands. She figured that we were about three miles away from the hospital, which was a straight shot down the highway. She thought that if she waited for the coach to deal with the situation (a coach who, remember, didn't have an emergency plan!), who knows how long it would be before paramedics arrived. So she helped Wyatt to where her car was parked in the lot and drove off to the ER.

      Wyatt had a badly broken collarbone and he never again played sports at the high school. He eventually healed and went on to have a wonderful sports career at Proctor Academy. What I recall about the accident was when Wyatt came back all bandaged up a few days later. He was very sore but told me that he intended to be at all the games and practices because, he said, "I love my teammates." I will never forget what that wonderful, fourteen-year-old boy said that day. While others on the team knew they were going off to play at private school the following year and cared less about sharing the victories than about racking up their own goals, Wyatt thought only about supporting the team. He always had a smile. He was always polite. He always put his team first. He was sorely missed.

      In the weeks since Wyatt passed away many of his friends, old team mates who are still friends of my sons, have come to visit at our house. Everyone one of them say the same thing: they all loved Wyatt and each mentioned how much he cared about everyone else. We learned a lot from Wyatt about how to be a good teammate and an even better person.