Recently, I received a call from a mother seeking advice. While attending a youth football game in which her son's team was getting crushed, she overheard another mom repeatedly express frustration that her own son wasn't playing. As the opposing team scored again, this upset mom lost it: she stormed down from the bleachers and marched around the field to where the teams were standing, arriving, ironically, just as her son went into the game and was promptly pulled back out again. She grabbed her son and dragged him away so quickly that the coaches didn't even notice.
The mom who called me recounted her husband's observation at that point: "That's such a mom thing to do," he said. And this mom thought to herself, "What's wrong with that? What's wrong with a 'mom thing to do'?"
On the one hand, she wondered, are moms supposed to just stand by while their kids suffer exclusion or other negative aspects of competitive youth sports? On the other hand, she wondered, what kind of message does a mom send by taking her kid off the field in the middle of a game.
"Mothers do get like mama bears," I told her. "We really do get very protective of our children." But while I recognized this mother's frustration with her son's lack of playing time, I couldn't endorse her actions.
Yet, I told her, a mother's protectiveness is not a bad thing. In fact, what serves mothers so well as sports parents is their natural protectiveness, along with their nurturing instinct, emotional openness, and their belief in the importance of fair play, cooperation, connectedness, inclusiveness and the value of doing one's best over winning and competition.
All of these traits give moms the potential to change the highly competitive culture of youth sports today in a profound way. Here's how using your special gifts as a mother can help your child - and all children - have the best possible sports experience:
1. Trust your "mother's intuition."
This is the single biggest key to being a good sports parent. You know your child better than anyone. You are your child's own expert. Are you trying to decide whether and when to let your child start playing sports, try out for a competitive travel team or begin specializing in a single sport? Or, even more serious, are you considering pulling your child off a team because you sense the coach is likely to abuse your child? Trusting your intuition in these cases is always the right choice.
2. Have the courage to say "no."
As a mother, you know when to say no: to candy right before meals, to staying up way past bedtime, to a new video game that isn't really needed. The same should be true for sports. Don't be intimidated into saying "yes" to letting your child play on two or three different teams during a single season, or paying $1,400 for that tournament at a fancy resort, simply because you worry that your child will suffer if you don't.