“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.
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!
Co-Founder/Director: 2-4-1 Sports
About Steve Boyle
Steve is the C0-Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports, whose flagship program is held at the Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. but now has locations throughout the United States and Canada. 2-4-1 was recently recognized by the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC as one of eight model programs in the United States for its approach to anti-specialization in youth sports. This led Steve to form the National Association of Physical Literacy – of which he is now Advisory Board Chair. Steve is also a founding member of the Quality Coaching Collective – an international group of activators around sport, movement and mindfulness. Lastly, through his role at CCG, Steve was the two-year Global Lead on Physical Literacy and Athletics for Whittle School & Studios (2018-20), which currently has campuses in Shenzhen, China and Washington, DC.