Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sportsby Brooke de Lench
Over the past decade, the stakes in youth sports have reached startling heights; the pressure to win often eclipses the desire to have fun. Sports injuries have increased tenfold; aggression on and off the field—between kids, parents, and coaches—is at a fever pitch; and drug and alcohol use among young athletes is on the rise. While there are plenty of… See more details below
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Over the past decade, the stakes in youth sports have reached startling heights; the pressure to win often eclipses the desire to have fun. Sports injuries have increased tenfold; aggression on and off the field—between kids, parents, and coaches—is at a fever pitch; and drug and alcohol use among young athletes is on the rise. While there are plenty of books that help the best-intentioned parent, most of them are written by men, for men. They do not address concerns specific to mothers, nor empower them to confidently step onto the out-of-control playground to assume whatever role they choose—spectator, advocate, administrator, coach, fund-raiser, or team mom.
Home Team Advantage is an essential resource manual that will inspire women to confidently tackle some of the issues preventing their kids from enjoying sports. Brooke de Lench authoritatively covers issues ranging from ensuring playing time and confronting out-of-control coaches to countering the "winning at all costs" mentality. Packed with real-life anecdotes and information from experts, Home Team Advantage provides constructive, practical, and forward-thinking advice to help mothers understand the critical role they can play in putting the words fun, game, and play back into youth sports.
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Home Team AdvantageThe Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports
By Brooke de Lench
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Brooke de Lench
All right reserved.
A Mother's Voice
The Missing Piece of the Youth Sports Puzzle
Education commences at the mother's knee, and every word spoken within the hearing of little children tends towards the formation of character.
A Chance to Play
One by one, eighteen sixth and seventh-grade boys entered the gym, barely making eye contact with me or one another. I extended my hand to each as he arrived, and introduced myself. I asked each to find a soccer ball and kick it around until practice started.
As the boys sullenly tossed their sports bag on the gymnasium floor and began to kick the soccer balls, I detected a lot of negative energy. From talking with their mothers, some of their fathers, and their previous soccer coaches, I knew how embarrassed most of them were: embarrassed to have been cut from the travel soccer program in our town because they weren't offered a spot on one of the top three teams, embarrassed because there were supposedly not enough boys or a coach to field a fourth team, and embarrassed that their coach was a mother.
Past coaches and the director of the soccer club had tried their best to dissuade me from coaching. "Don't expect to win anygames," they said. Some of the boys have attention issues, they said; several chronically misbehave. Some lack talent or are slow footed. So-and-so's mother is a pain in the you-know-what and will make your life miserable.
To make matters worse, some of the parents, once they learned that I was to be the coach, immediately challenged my ability as a forty-three-year-old mother to coach a team of twelve-year-old boys. One father had called to tell me his son was going to sit out the season rather than play for me: "He deserves better. He deserves a top-level coach," the father said. Most told me not to be surprised if their son quit after the first few practices: "he is angry and embarrassed to be on a team of also-rans, especially one coached by a mother," they told me. The only glimmer of hope they gave me was that their sons loved soccer, and that they thought that they had the potential to be good players.
Instead of scaring me off, however, all the negativity simply strengthened my resolve to turn what everyone expected to be a disastrous season into something special; to give this group of outcasts a season to remember, to give them a reason to keep playing soccer by making it fun again, to show them the very best that sport had to offer, and to teach them lessons through sports that would enrich their lives.
After I let the boys play for twenty minutes (as the mother of three energetic twelve-year-old boys I was well aware of the need for boys this age to burn off steam), free play had turned into a frenetic game of dodgeball. I shouted for the boys to take a break, grab their snacks, and find a seat in the bleachers.
Once they sat down, I introduced myself. Before I began explaining my coaching philosophy, expectations, and goals for the upcoming season, Todd* blurted out the question that seemed to be on most of their minds: "Why don't we have a man for a coach?" Instead of answering, I suggested that they eat their snacks and drink their water while I did the talking, after which I would answer their questions.
No such luck. They bombarded me with questions. Finally, Jared insisted that I answer his question: "Why are you coaching us? What do you know? You are a girl."
After taking a couple of deep breaths, I began again. I had not scripted what I was going to say; instead, I spoke from the heart. "Most of you know that a month ago you didn't have a team to play on. I was the one who asked the men running the program to give you a chance to play. When they told me that no one had volunteered to coach a Division 4 team, I told them I would find someone with a soccer license who was an expert on eleven and twelve-year-old boys like you, and who loved sports as much as each of you."
The team was finally quiet.
As hard as I tried, I told them, I couldn't find anyone with the credentials, the time, or as much love of the game of soccer as I did to be the coach. "So, guys, I am your coach."
I went on to tell them that during the upcoming season they would learn a lot about soccer and teamwork; that, above all else, they would not only have fun but, by the end of the season, they would be holding their heads up high.
The rest, as they say, is history. A group of angry boys with attention, aggression, communication, and self-esteem issues became a group of boys who respected themselves, one another, and me; a group of boys able to effectively communicate with one another and me; a team that held its own in scrimmages against the town's Division 1 and 2 teams; a team awarded a trophy for sportsmanship at a Memorial Day tournament; a team that went undefeated until the semifinal of the league's postseason tournament; and ultimately, a team I was invited to take to a sportsmanship tournament in St. Andrews, Scotland. One parent later told me that I was the best coach her son had ever had. The director of the soccer club said he had never seen a team play together so well as a team.
It was my dream team. I took my wish list of what I felt made a good coach, and what I felt was important to teach boys on the cusp of puberty, and made it come true. I gave the team a safe, nurturing environment in which to do what boys . . .
Excerpted from Home Team Advantage by Brooke de Lench Copyright © 2006 by Brooke de Lench. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Brooke de Lench is the founder and editor-in-chief of MomsTeam.com, an online publication for mothers parenting children active in youth sports. She also established Teams of Angels, a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to reducing catastrophic injury in youth sports. She is the mother of three sons and lives in the Boston area.
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