Do We Really Want to Go Back to Normal?

March 6, 2021
As we work our way back to “normal” in what hopefully will soon be a post-pandemic world, we have an opportunity to approach our youth sports parenting differently. While maybe not the way we would have asked for, we were nonetheless literally given the pause and opportunity to reboot that so many of us had hoped for. But, will we take advantage of that pause? The following is an excerpt from a story I’ve shared before that sadly continues in communities around the country. What I ask is that you look at the bullets near the bottom and decide what your family priorities will be the next time you’re asked to make your child decide between a basketball or a lacrosse game (in May), or the next time you’re asked to drive 640 miles, give up a weekend and spend $2500 to have your 11 year old play against other children that only live two towns away
A few weeks back, I received an almost frantic Saturday night email from a great 2-4-1 mom whose kids attended our camp in years past. While they’ve since moved to another New England town, she’s been so good to stay in touch. I’m sharing the following with her permission as we both agreed it’s a conversation lots of folks should be having.
I am writing to you from a place of frustration and in desperate need of someone who gets it to help me navigate this. The world of youth sports has become insane. My son, Jack, who attended your camp and loved it, is a true athlete to the core. He plays premiere soccer at our new town’s club and just took his basketball game to the travel team level. The kid has what can’t be taught…an amazing attitude, plays with all heart and is so passionate about BOTH his sports. As you can imagine at this level of play, there are numerous families who are all in it for just ONE sport. My poor soon-to-be 11 year old is now faced tonight with the decision of going to his soccer game or basketball tomorrow. What sports have done today is insane. Our family has 5 games this weekend for this kid. He can’t go to all of them and has to make a choice. What frustrates me is that it isn’t technically soccer season and basketball should come first….however both sports make him feel like he has to be there. How do these successful athletes play more than one sport? People are telling us he has to choose…..I DISAGREE!! He would play every sport if there was enough time in the day. Help ground me!! Thanks for taking the time to read this.
One frustrated and stressed Mom,
If you deal with angry coaches forcing kids to make choices over what sports to play – you should be choosing new coaches.

“What sports have done today is insane”.  Let Julie’s words sink in a little bit.  And please recognize that it was a similar moment of outrage over a decade ago that led Kerry and I to form 2-4-1 Sports. It’s one thing to complain about situations – it’s another thing to act on them.  I was reinvigorated by the conversation I had that night with Julie because her parental struggle is one that so many simply give into – and a reminder to me that we still have a long way to go as it relates to youth sports in this country and beyond.   While we talked about many things regarding forced specialization, the following gives you a sense of what I think are the most important takeaways.

Wayne Gretzky “The Great One” Gets the 2-4-1 Philosophy

Consider the quote above from Wayne Gretzky – one of the most successful athletes of any sport at any time.  

“I played everything…..”  For those of you that read my posts, you know that the word “play” is pretty important to me. Heck – look at this logo we use all the time!

We have to remain grounded in play. That said, I recognize that we now live in an era that makes simple access to play more difficult than in years past. So, as I suggested to Julie, you should have a set of family rules and “philosophies”.  The bullets below are ones we prescribed to when our kids were going through their youth sport experience and included are some non-negotiables.  Some of them I simply discussed anecdotally in my conversation with Julie.

  • The in-season sport takes precedence at all times (eg. soccer/fh/football in the fall, basketball/ice hockey in the winter, baseball/softball/lacrosse in the spring).
  • Coaches resumés should not be built on the win/loss records of children 12 and under, but rather on the number of those children who come back out for their sport the following year.
  • Parents have a responsibility to know and predict unavoidable conflicts that will occur on a regular basis (eg – AAU basketball and school lacrosse both practice from 6-8PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays). This is a case where you may need to choose (the in-sport season) or find another team/program on the off-nights (not recommending this as I think only one sport should be “competitive” each season).
  • If you truly support a multisport philosophy, you should ask if the directors/coaches of the club or league you are joining do as well. (If you question their response – ask them to call me and I will vet it for you. I’ve done this in the past past and am happy to do again).
  • Children should never be put in the position of having to choose one team over another. When inevitable conflicts arise, have a plan for dealing with it and the adults should make the decision that best serves the child.

I truly appreciated Julie’s willingness to reach out and have an honest conversation about the topic. I think it’s an important conversation for all families and coaches involved in youth sports to have. Julie knew deep inside what was right, but she was getting so many conflicting messages from the folks she interacted with on a daily basis, that it’s easy to get warn down.  At the end of the day, we recognize that unfortunately kids can’t just go outside and find a pick up game like we used to, but we should nonetheless be providing a youth sports culture for kids that allows them to play and experience multiple sports at the highest level they’re capable of – without fear of retribution. They are children after all and sports are simply games that are meant to be played. 

Again – let’s allow this last year to help us think about what “normal” is. If Julie’s situation was “normal” – and I would argue that it was – do any of us really want to go back there? My now-adult children roll their eyes at an expression I still use with them when they present “conflicts” to me where I know they know the answer. I smile and quip – “Life’s a series of choices.” I say the same thing to parents now. You know the answers – yet, your FOMO (fear of missing out) leads to choices that are against your instincts and values. Let the gift of COVID be one that allows you to start anew and make choices for our children and our culture that are rooted in sanity and rooted in play!

Steve Boyle

Co-Founder/Director: 2-4-1 Sports


About Steve Boyle

Steve Boyle is a visionary leader and advocate for youth sports and physical literacy. As the Executive Director of 2-4-1 CARE, Inc. and Co-Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports, Steve stands at the forefront of the movement to transform the youth sports paradigm. His forward-thinking anti-specialization approach has garnered acclaim from esteemed institutions like the Aspen Institute. At the helm of 2-4-1, Steve has skillfully guided its expansion from its flagship location in West Hartford, Connecticut, to a range of locations across the U.S., Canada, and Africa. His leadership has not only scaled the program but also redefined the standards of youth sports Beyond the scope of 2-4-1 Sports, Steve’s influence extended to developing the National Association of Physical Literacy, where his insights as Advisory Board Chair were pivotal. His tenure as Global Lead on Physical Literacy and Athletics for Whittle School & Studios marked a significant contribution to the global community, shaping the athletic and physical education frameworks across campuses in Shenzhen and Washington, D.C. Steve is equally known for merging his expertise in counseling with his coaching acumen to create the TOP Self social-emotional learning platform. This innovative endeavor leverages sports to impart essential social-emotional learning skills, cementing Steve’s status as a national authority in physical literacy development.