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Using Intuition Key To Sports Parenting Success

Protect your child from abuse.

Since the dawn of time, mothers have been the primary caretakers protecting their children from harm. Don't abdicate this critical duty by turning a blind eye to the physical, emotional or psychological abuse that can occur at the hands of coaches, spectators or teammates. Abuse shouldn't be the price your child has to pay to be able to play competitive sports. Learn about the different forms that abuse can take in the sports environment and be proactive in preventing it:

  • Model appropriate behavior and attitudes. Teach your child that violence - whether physical or emotional - is not the way to solve personal problems.
  • Limit training, whether in practices, games, at home or with a private coach, to reduce the risk of potentially permanent overuse injuries to your child's growing bones, joints and muscles. Experts generally agree that a child under age 18 is far less likely to suffer an overuse injury when he or she takes three months off from organized sports spread out through the year.
  • Refuse to let your child play with an injury.
  • Make sure he or she gets enough rest and is adequately hydrated before, during and after sports.
  • Insist that your child's club or league conduct background checks on all adults who work with youth athletes.
  • Insist that a two-adult rule be instituted for practices and overnight trips.
  • Speak up if you hear abusive language or see abusive conduct, whether from a coach, player or parent.
  • Get to know your child's coach by attending practices and games to see how he or she interacts with the athletes (private or closed practices are a red flag for abuse).
  • Educate your kids about the forms of abuse and create a safe, nurturing environment in which they will feel comfortable letting you know whenever abuse, in any of its forms, has occurred.

Become a coach.

While fathers still coach most youth sports teams, more and more mothers are becoming coaches. Here are just some of the reasons why moms can make excellent youth sports coaches. In general:

  • Women are natural teachers.
  • Women tend to lead by consensus, a leadership style that even boys often prefer, rather than a more authoritarian form of leadership.
  • Mothers are instinctive protectors of children - careful and cautious about children's safety.
  • A mother's instinct is to be a calming influence and peacemaker and to emphasize how we're all the same inside. Mothers tend to care about all children, not just their own.
  • A woman's emotional openness, communication skills and ability to detect mood from facial expression, body posture and gestures help her relate well to players and motivate them to do their best.

Reclaim your natural role as guardian of children at play.

While mothers have always overseen children at play, that role has been compromised by a youth sports system dominated by men and male values. It's time for moms to shed the label of "soccer mom" and to take a more active role in shaping their children's sports experiences. If we do, we can go a long way toward creating a balance in youth sports between feminine and masculine, between female and male values, between winning and having fun, and between competition and cooperation.

Brooke de Lench is a mother of three sons and the founder and editor in chief of MomsTeam.com, an online resource for mothers raising children who are active in youth sports. She's also the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins, 2006).

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