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Do We Need a Mommy Track in Pro Sports? (Or at least a better career path?)

July 8, 2010 – 6:12 PM

By Laura Pappano

As physical aspects of becoming a mom – bearing children – recede as a reason for halting an athletic career, another is emerging: Is it possible to be a top athlete and a good mommy?

Now that women can compete at high levels into their 30s and 40s – whether in golf, tennis, soccer, or basketball – female professional athletes get to engage the challenge working mothers have faced for decades: How do you do your job (honor your identity and passion) and still be an engaged parent?

This has long been the third rail of feminism. The fault line between employed mothers and “stay-at-home” mothers (all moms work) bumps up in daily life from the scheduling of school events (classroom volunteers needed 10:45-11:15: Who’s available?) to the matter of which mom has the most high-powered e-mail address or a calendar too jammed to send in paper cups.

If the Mommy Wars (and some argue it’s all imagined) have taught us anything, however, it’s that there is no single correct approach to being a parent. If the goal is to raise good kids and be involved in their lives there are many ways to do this – and do it well.

The very phrase “Mommy Track” has been tainted by the view that it is career-lite. But increasingly, making work flexible is a tool for keeping top talent — and it does not decrease intelligence, drive, or skill. Sure, some people multi-task better than others (but the argument that working moms are distracted misses all the work-day internet poker that can be equally distracting). Accommodating talent buys loyalty and quality work (or play).

How does this apply to pro sports?

Many athletes already have more flexible schedules (in terms of training) than many traditional professionals. Competition does present a particular challenge – but so do big presentations and conferences. The point: The schedule is workable.

The New York Times on Monday observed the falling number of LPGA golfers taking advantage of the tour’s Child Development Center while noting that superstars Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam retired at the top of their game, apparently to devote time to family.

Yes, there may be factors that explain this stat: 1) competitors are younger 2) competition is stiffer and 3) there is more international travel on the Tour.

But the matter for the LPGA – as for other women’s pro sports – is that it’s time to talk about quality childcare. Not good babysitting or ski-school-like people willing to watch kids while mom plays, but the sort of waiting-list-worthy early childhood education program (and well-advertised) that makes parents rave. Have a system of childcare so that whether you are in Illinois or Florida, there is continuity. Salaries and prize money matters. But so do benefits. Ironically, such an initiative could drive more women into pro sports – and keep them longer.

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