Youth Sports Are Back! Here’s What You Need to Know…

After 12+ months without sports, young athletes are finally returning to their beloved fields, courts and sports camps in 2021

Steve Morris

| 4 min read

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And we’re back! 

A year ago, the cancelation of the NCAA Basketball tournament confirmed that the Covid-19 virus wasn’t fading from 15 cases to zero. It was truly March Madness, but in a way only a few dialed-in epidemiologists and public health experts ever predicted. It ushered in 12 months of duplicate days and discombobulated every-state-for-itself responses. The crisis metastasized from viral to existential and left nearly every sector of society in a shambles. Bereft, we prayed at the altar of Netflix and beseeched Amazon to deliver us. 

The Road to the Final Four providentially returned, complete with bracket busters and buzzer beaters, even if the games are being played in fan-starved arenas. Really, who cares? Spring has sprung and a new day is dawning. 

For some youth sports, it’s already here. Arguably has been for a while. Soccer, for one, has gone from virtual practices in little Zoom windows, to socially distant, limited-squad training, to furtive forays into hot spots of contagion like Phoenix and Vegas, to games in rebelliously “open” counties. 

And now, in baseball, lacrosse, spring football, track and a host of other sports, masks droop below the chin or wind up stuffed in pockets, and the fields that bred gophers and blew tumbleweed are alive with athletes. Parents who surrendered to their kids’ pervasive screen consumption are ripping the devices out of junior’s hands and pushing him out the car door. Programs are racing back so quickly, an uptick in whiplash cases have been clogging hospital emergency rooms. 

It’s like we never left, right? 

Our gratitude can barely be contained. The exhilaration of exercise, the joy of friends reunited, the rush of competition. After being gone so long, who can blame us for being so excited? 

Let . . . It . . . Out!  IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK. HELL YEAH!!!

But hang on . . . What of all those “issues” we complained about before hibernation? Too many practices a week, constant carpools, rushed or non-existent dinner times, weekends spent more in travel than in play, juggling jumbled schedules. We won’t be living our lives on Zoom, but are we just trading that platform for an in-person, split-screen version? 

Have we learned nothing? 

For now, any frustration seems petty, beneath comment, totally tolerable. Mere background noise to be drowned out by the weekend’s exuberant cheers. But when the thrill fades into the grind — and over time it will — will our appreciation for what wasn’t continue to override our uneasiness over what is?

In other words, how long will we rationalize our run on the hamster wheel by raising the false flags of “my son needs to get back up to speed,” “my daughter has to make up for lost time,” or “if my kid doesn’t get to the next level soon . . .“ 

Let’s put this in perspective. 

Your kid had a drive-by 9th birthday. He’ll have friends in the backyard for his 10th. That year he “lost?” Perhaps he’s returning with more enthusiasm than he previously exhibited. Maybe she’s opted for a new sport during the lockdown. Possibly instead of dropping out of sports at 13, your kids will play an extra year or two or more. 

Conditions have changed. But have values? If last April we were giving thanks for family dinners, newly-discovered interests and less chaos in our lives, are those not wonderful, unintended gifts to hold onto?

It will be a challenge to withstand the tsunami of pressure coming from organizations, coaches, well-meaning friends, and yes, our adorably relentless children, all of whom will be pushing the party line that it will take a Herculean effort to repair the damage of a year in limbo and reset us on a trajectory of success. 

This year we came to doubt the stability of the very ground beneath our feet, but we made it. And for the health and well-being of our children, it’s time to call upon the strength and hard-won wisdom of our survival. Have the confidence to resist. Take a breath. Slow it all down. And remember one simple truth our kids have surely learned: “Sitting around sucks. Playing is fun.” 

Start with that. The rest will follow. 

Welcome back.

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