Today, I begin my blog again after taking the full summer off from writing.
The reason for my summer hiatus, at least from blogging, wasn't that I was relaxing on the beach or by the pool (oh, if only).
No, it was because I was at my desk at MomsTEAM Institute working hard on two major initiatives: our inaugural SmartTeams Play Safe Summit at Harvard Medical School, and the launch of our six SmartTeam pilot projects.
A week ago today, I had the honor of being joined by some of the nation's top youth sports safety experts at Harvard Medical's beautiful Joseph Martin Conference Center for a full day of fast-paced, extremely informative, and, at times, emotionally gripping 15-minute presentations on a wide range of youth sports safety topics. (The entire event was captured on videotape, so look for some video highlights in the months to come)
I was extremely gratified that so many athletic training students, youth sports safety advocates, researchers, orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine practitioners, and other youth sports stakeholders came out on a gorgeous late summer day in Boston to hear about a new approach to youth safety (at least for those who haven't been reading MomsTEAM for the past 15 years), one which focuses, not just on cataloging all the problems the nation faces in making youth sports safer, but on steps we can, must, and are taking right now to help young athletes play safer through education and by following best practices, summed up in the SmartTeam's catchphrase: Be Smart to Play Safe.TM
As MomsTEAM has always advocated, the speakers offered a holistic approach to sports safety, one which addresses not just a child's physical, emotional, psychological and sexual safety, but their need for proper nutrition and hydration as well. I think it is safe to say that I speak for all those who spoke or who attended that, by adopting best practices, youth sports programs around the country, whether at the youth, middle school, or high school level, can stem the rising tide of injuries that have become an all-too-common and unfortunate byproduct of today's hyper-competitive, over-specialized, and over-commercialized youth sports environment.
Among the highlights of the SmartTeams Play Safe summit - and there were many - was a panel discussion, led by Tamara McLeod of AT Still University, about the launch of pilot programs in six communities around the country - each coordinated by a university-based athletic training educator, clinician and researcher - designed to test MomsTEAM's innovative new SmartTeamTM program. (That's me in the picture at right with Marisa Colston, Ph.D., ATC of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, co-coordinator of our Hixson, TN program)
Modeled on the community-centric approach to improving youth sports safety highlighted in MomsTEAM's PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer", the program will award SmartTeam status to organizations which commit to following best health, safety, nutrition and hydration practices. [In case you missed the segment on "The Today Show" about our Grand Prairie, Texas pilot program being coordinated by Cindy Trowbridge of the University of Texas at Arlington, here is the video]
Although some advocates view legislative mandates as a way to safer sports *and I am a strong supporter of safety legislation, such as the excellent sports safety bill introduced in the United States Senate this summer by New Jersey senator Robert Menendez), I believe that a free market approach via public recognition of youth sport leagues and interscholastic athletic programs that voluntarily comply with best-practice standards conferred by an independent advocacy organization such as MomsTEAM Institute, one which is free of influence from the potentially self-serving interests of any professional group or trade organization, is the best way to improve the safety of youth athletes.
I honestly believe we can achieve a paradigm shift in the way we talk about sports safety in this country, but it is only going to happen at the grassroots level, and it is only going to happen if parents want it to happen. The SmartTeams program is designed to help do just that: to give parents a benchmark against which to measure the commitment of their child's program to a safer sports experience so they can support those programs that measure up and demand change from those that don't. As I have said so often in blog posts, articles, and my book, Home Team Advantage, over the years, our children deserve no less.
It will take all stakeholders communicating with and working together to make youth sports safer. The fact that so many of the nation's top sports safety experts came together in Boston last week is proof positive that they are ready to do just that. The enthusiastic support which the SmartTeam program has already received from so many in the youth sports community has been gratifying, and I look forward to working with every expert, researcher, parent, coach, administrator, certified athletic trainer, athletic director, league administrator, sports safety equipment and testing manufacturer, trade organization, medical society, and interest group to clearly define and communicate best practice standards for sport health and safety to the general public in the months and years ahead.
A heartfelt thanks to our Board of Advisors and all of our speakers who joined us for our welcoming reception at the Harvard Club on Sunday night, courtesy of Dr. Lyle Micheli (pictured with me at left), who was also our host on Monday, to all those who were able to join us in person for the summit, to our sponsors, and to those who Tweeted about the event, before, during, and after, especially MomsTEAM Institute Board of Advisor Dr. Jim MacDonald (a/k/a @sportingjim) and our new friend, Jessica Schwartz, DPT (a/k/a @DPT2go).
Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of the non-profit MomsTEAM Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, Producer of "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer", and author of "Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports" (HarperCollins). You can email Brooke (delench@MomsTEAM.com), and follow her on Twitter @brookedelench. As an independent youth sports safety watchdog and advocacy group, MomsTEAM depends on the continued support of visitors like you. Won't you please consider supporting the SmartTeam campaign by making a donation? We thank you and your kids will thank you.