SL Interview: Michael Messner Talks About His New Book on Youth Sports

A professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, Michael Messner has long studied sports through the lens of gender identity. His books include “Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports,” “Out of Play: Critical Essays on Gender and Sport,” “Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity,” and the widely-used textbook “Men’s Lives” (now in its eighth edition).

With his latest book, “It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports” (University of California Press; Amazon), Messner turns his attention to youth sports. He believes the subject is ripe for study, not least because “two-thirds of American youth are currently involved in at least one organized or team sport,” he writes. He also notes that, in academic circles, “there have been very few book-length studies of youth sports – despite the fact that this is where we find the largest number of participants at any level of organized sports (excepting spectatorship).”

Messner took eight years to research and write “It’s All for the Kids,” drawing in no small part on his personal experience as a volunteer assistant coach-scorekeeper for his two sons’ AYSO soccer and Little League baseball teams in their hometown community of South Pasadena, Calif. The wide-ranging book examines every aspect of this culture, including the “glass ceiling” women face within the coaching and volunteer ranks, the separate-but-not-always-equal division between girls and boys teams, and what Messner describes as the “gender comfort zone” within youth sports.

SportsLetter recently spoke with Professor Messner in South Pasadena.

— David Davis