by Sarah Skwire
“Mom sports” were recently excoriated in the pages of the Washington Times in connection with a rantthat tagged soccer as a “liberals’ sport” and “not a real sport” and worst of all “a mom sport.”
No explicit definition of “mom sport” was given in the article, but it is suggested that such sports are the ones that believe in participation trophies, a low barrier to entry, and getting the kids out of the house on a Saturday.
Reading the article, I sighed heavily and clicked rapidly away. It was, after all, just one more idiotic dismissal of things that women do as trivial, silly, and dumb. If you’ve seen one (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen them all.
But as I drove from my office to my taekwondo dojang to assist in instructing a beginner’s class, I started to think about all the moms whose kids I help train, and all the moms I train alongside.
These moms (and dads, of course, but no sport has ever been denigrated by being called a “Dad sport”) get their kids to the dojang to train at least two times a week, some of them twice that or more. They wash uniforms and make sure everyone has their gear. They soothe nerves before competitions and tests for new belts. They put bandaids on feet that didn’t manage to break the board that time. They practice Korean vocabulary. They learn to tie belts properly, remind their kids to bow, bring food for picnics, race home early from work to get everyone to class, shuttle kids to tournaments, and show up for everything.
And if they are taekwondo students as well as moms of taekwondo students (and a lot of us are), they do all of that while learning their own material, worrying about their own board breaks and tests and competitions, dying inside when their kids are reprimanded in class, and wrangling all the physical and mental challenges of being a middle aged martial artist.
The moms at my dojang who want to become black belts will have to be able to perform 20 set kicking combinations, 30 self defense moves, and 20 Hapkido (grappling) moves. They will need to know and be able to perform 10 poomsae (forms). They will need to be at a level of conditioning that will allow them to engage in several rounds of one on one sparring, and a round or two of two on one sparring. They will need to break 3 boards at once with a single back kick. (That’s about 2.25” of wood.)
But before they even get to that test, they will need to show up, day after day after day, to train. They’ll need to come in when they don’t want to, or when their kids don’t want to, or when they were up until 2 am working on their real job. They’ll need to leave the dojang and go home, and often they will then be the one who makes dinner and supervises homework and bath time and bedtime.
And on the way home, they’ll pass some fool who can’t pass any part of that test and who probably hasn’t done anything more athletic since junior high school than watch other people play sports on television. And that person will tell them that taekwondo isn’t a real sport, or that they had no idea that taekwondo was really just a “mom sport.”
“Mom” is not an insult.
Sports that moms do, and sports that moms support, are not trivial, silly, or unimportant. Neither are the moms who do them.
Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at AdamSmithWorks.com. Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture. She and her daughters will test for their second degree black belts in taekwondo in October of 2019.