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Brooke de Lench
Brooke de Lench
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Finding Sports and Family Balance: A Progress Report

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An important part of our mission at MomsTeam the past ten years has been to advocate for more balance between sports and family. It is a cause to which I have been deeply committed for many years, so much so that I devoted an entire chapter in my book, Home Team Advantage, to the subject. So it was gratifying to see the work MomsTeam has been doing mentioned in Sue Shellenbarger's Work and Family column in the Wall Street Journal in an article titled, Kids Quit the Team for More Family Time.

High wire actThe very fact that the Journal ran such an article is proof positive that the message that MomsTeam has been trying to get across to parents and coaches is being heard; that more and more parents, coaches and youth sports leaders in this country are beginning to appreciate the importance of finding balance between sports and other important aspects of a child's life, like family vacations, time for unstructured free play, and other extracurricular activities.

It was also nice to see that the article featured the story of Noah Shriber, one of the parents I suggested that Ms. Shellenbarger interview. Noah is just one of the literally thousands of parents I have talked to over the past ten years about ways to help kids continue a life time of sports participation and avoid the sports burnout that consumes so many in today's "supersized" America.

That it required "courage," as the Journal article put it, for Noah to have told his 9-year old son's hockey coach that he wouldn't be able to take part in a summer hockey camp because he was spending seven weeks at a good old-fashioned, all-around summer camp, shows how far youth sports still has to go in finding the right balance between organized sports and other activities, including letting our kids be, well, kids.

Widening gulf between haves and have nots

Carving out time for kids to be kids, of course, isn't the only problem in the year-round, all-consuming madness that too often typifies youth sports these days. I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of Andrea Grazzini Walstrom, the leader of a group in Minnesota called Balance4Success (which I highlighted in my chapter on sports/family balance in Home Team Advantage), who wrote in an e-mail about the Journal article that there is, what she termed, an "increasing divide" between players whose families can afford the escalating time, travel and financial demands of year-round play, tournaments, clinics and equipment and those who, tough economic times or not, simply can't.

As Noah told me, a year of elite hockey costs his family a staggering $8,500. Many families to whom I speak around the nation tell me they simply can't afford the cost of sports. The sad fact is that cutbacks in school sports, increased reliance on user fees, and an outmoded high school sports system that forces too many kids to compete for too few roster spots, are pushing more kids to the sports sidelines, deprived of the outlets they - especially boys - need, as Andrea Grazzini Walstrom, writes, to "express their normal physical energies and access the [life] lessons sports can offer," including socialization (an important aspect of team sports for both boys and girls).

Sadly, for the kids good enough to make the team, for the ones with parents who somehow manage to afford the cost of sports, sports can exact a physical (e.g. overuse injuries such as ruptured ACLs and blown-out pitching elbows and shoulders), and emotional toll.

MomsTeam's continuing mission

I also agree with Ms. Grazzini Walstrom that, "[j]ust as troubling is that good coaches are burnt out, including women coaches, who could offer important leadership for both girls and boys teams, but for many reasons, including hypercompetitive attitudes and exclusive hierarchies that continue to prevail in youth sports are opting out."

From its launch in August 2000, MomsTeam's mission has always been to make youth sports safer, saner, less stressful and more inclusive. We will continue to work with parents, coaches, administrators and other organizations to make sure that youth sports are just that: a place where all children can begin a love affair with sports and healthy physical exercise lasting a lifetime.