Keeping kids playing on teams is a goal of MomsTeam.com founder

A website helps parents deal with the world of youth sports

Brooke deLench decided something good could come from the sometimes disillusioning experiences she's had as a parent of young athletes.

The result is Moms Team.com, a website that draws on her years in the youth-sport trenches and as a self-avowed "community sports activist."

The site, with its wealth of resources and counsel, hopes to become the "trusted adviser" and No. 1 Internet destination for mothers of kids playing sports at every step along the way - from preschoolers up through the teenage years.

Raising 17-year-old triplet sons, Ms. deLench believes, has given her a wide-screen view of the youth sports landscape.

"Because I have three children who are very different but exactly the same age, I've been able to see what was happening in a different way," she says from her home in Concord, Mass. "Maybe I need to be the one who could stand up and tell other parents what they needed to know."

She and her husband once took on the local soccer establishment to set up a new traveling soccer club in the town so that their sons and 60 other boys could continue playing.

MomsTeam.com is not a one-woman soapbox, though. About 20 people nationwide, including a panel of experts, now work on the site, which is growing so rapidly that deLench is looking to find larger quarters for the tech staff.

Ultimately, however, much of the sharing and networking are meant to engage the target audience: an estimated 34 million mothers with children in sports.

Dads aren't excluded, it's just that MomsTeam communicates most directly with mothers and their experiences, including gender bias.

"To me, youth sports is one of the last old-boy networks," deLench says. "When we start letting [more] women become the coaches of boys and men's teams, at that point I think we will start seeing a lot of really good things happen with our teams."

As it is, deLench says, there's too much of a survival mentality in youth sports.

Concerned that their children won't make the grade or advance to the next level, parents (often dads) take an excessive interest in their own child's participation.

"I've seen some incredibly competitive parents who can act like they don't even know their neighbors when they're on the sports field," deLench says. "They have tunnel vision for their own children."

Driven by self-interest, these parents often become coaches or league officials in order to control and ensure their children's involvement.

"They'll kind of knock out all of their children's competition so that their child is the last one standing," deLench explains. "They become entrenched in the program and never really leave. You find them the first day of T-ball, and they're still there at every single one of the practices up through the high school years and are absolutely focused on their own child.

"To me, it's very destructive to us as a society, very destructive to our children."

To address this issue, deLench advocates making high-school programs more inclusive of those of lesser abilities. This would ease the tension throughout the youth sports ranks, which now are often seen as a feeder system for developing elite athletes.

Creating more opportunity with school teams could lessen the concerns parents have about what the future holds.

"The parents at the younger levels," deLench says, "could take a deep breath and say, 'I know that my child, if he or she really wants to play baseball, lacrosse, or softball, will have a place to play. There will be no need for me as a parent to push my child to the next level and the next level and the next level."

Not cutting kids as they move up the sports ladder might seem unrealistic, but deLench is convinced that the commitment and extra costs needed to accommodate larger numbers of students would be worth it.

Why? Because of reports that show that young people who participate in after-school sports programs do better in school and are less likely to be involved in drugs, alcohol, and other frowned-on activities.

Merely creating intramural playing opportunities, however, is not sufficient.

"What young people want to be able to do," deLench explains, "is to get on a bus. They want to sing the school song, they want to travel to the next town over, and they want to represent their school."

Few senior boys stayed with soccer long enough to enjoy those experiences at Concord High School this year. Only six seniors were on the varsity team, deLench says, in a town where 300 to 400 kindergartners and first-graders start off in the sport.

By contrast, in Duxbury, Mass., where deLench grew up, she says, this year's boys high school soccer team had 25 seniors on the roster. The coach didn't cut boys who'd come up through the youth program.

The team finished second in the state tournament and benefitted from having plenty of practice players. "They could always have a full team scrimmage," she says, "and the starters knew there were guys behind them vying for their positions, so that spurred them all to play much better soccer."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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