When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin referred to herself as "just your average hockey mom," she instantly connected with thousands of people.

The reference reminded me of 1996's soccer moms and their perceived impact on the presidential election between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton.

Debates still rage about whether or not terms like "soccer moms" or "hockey moms" really refer to a single homogenous group. I don't think they do. But all sports moms — regardless of political affiliation — share some common experiences and concerns.

Labeling yourself a sports mom — or dad for that matter — immediately tells the rest of us one thing: Your child's athletic endeavors are as important to you as they are to your child.

For some, the label is a good thing. For others, it's not so flattering.

Saying, "I'm a (insert sport here) mom" is short-hand for a lot.

"I love my children so much, I want them to have every opportunity and experience they want or need, even if it means I don't have a life. Their games become my entertainment. Their friends' mothers become my friends. Their trials become mine, and sometimes I get just a little carried away because I want so badly for their experience to be wonderful.

"I have nursed injuries, encouraged perseverance and attempted to build self-esteem. I have soared with my child's success and suffered heart-break as if it were my own. I have learned patience while I encouraged it, and fostered an attitude that hard work will bring multiple rewards.

"Yes, some days I feel like a taxi service (volunteer, that is), and I spend too much time eating food served through a drive-up window. I will probably suffer lifelong back problems from spending so much time sitting in bleachers, and I wonder when grocery stores will make my life easier by having an aisle just for treat moms. You know, pre-cut oranges, apples and other healthy but tasty snacks that comes with sports drinks, individually packaged and ready to serve (and impress).

"When I'm not driving my children to or from practices and games, I am probably organizing team outings, dinners or fund-raisers because team bonding is essential, and so is the green stuff.

"And speaking of money, I don't want to count the hundreds, even thousands, of dollars I've spent on my child's chosen sport(s). That's because I do it all, without an ounce of bitterness (except for those lectures on gratitude my children sometimes drive me to deliver), because there is nothing more important to me than my family."

The power of the statement isn't just that hockey moms will understand you. Any parent who has a child in youth sports knows what a time, energy and emotional commitment the games are, and the sport is irrelevant.

They may not vote for her, but they definitely understand why she's proud of that label. Let's face it, Michael Phelps wouldn't be wearing eight gold medals on the cover of Sports Illustrated if it weren't for the drive, dedication and devotion of his mother. Any swimming mom knows that the bleachers at a swim meet are both uncomfortable and humid. (Oh, and like hockey, swim practice is often at 4:30 or 5 a.m.) Regardless of political or religious affiliation, socio-economic bracket or geographic location, parents of all backgrounds understand the sacrifice, and ultimately the joy that comes from being a dedicated youth sports mom or dad. The best ones don't just devote themselves to their own children, but to their teammates and even those on opposing squads. They support the system that allows children to learn life's lessons on a ballfield or hockey rink and they understand the final score rarely tells the whole story.

I'm not sure how much political clout it will carry, because after all, we've all seen sports moms who belonged in solitary confinement rather than public office. But I thought it was interesting that both in 1996 and in this presidential election none of the male candidates attempted to define themselves through their connection to youth sports.

The real connection between those who label themselves in that way, however, goes deeper than just a love and understanding of youth sports.

The unspoken message says I'm devoted, sometimes to my own detriment, to my children and to the children of my neighborhood. And while everyone won't relate to that sentiment, millions do.

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