March 15, 2021

Lessons Learned, Plans Changed

It has been a year in which life as we knew it and this initiative as we understood it changed.  Among the many lessons learned this past year were affirmations of what we already believed. Entering the pandemic, we were talking about the need for a reimagined youth sports environment. What that new environment included was still coming into focus.  We knew the current narrative focused on athletic development, coach development, and win/loss records left kids and families priced out, pushed out or burnt out of youth sports. We saw inequities between those who could afford sports and those who could not. Less clear were the changes needed and how to bring them about. Enter the pandemic.

The pandemic has changed many landscapes. What once was accepted as “that is the just the way it is” is now questioned with “is that the way it should be?”  Youth sport is no exception to this trend. The COVID-19 storm cloud was fierce, but as it lifts, it provides a chance to start anew. As I started thinking about this second chance for youth sports and how to start it, I recalled a quote in Michael Lewis’s book Playing to Win, which chronicles his experiences as a 21st Century youth sports parent. Lewis adeptly points out the need for parents to remember “to be the age of your child.” In other words, our kids don’t start playing sports at the place that we stopped.

We may remember our time playing youth sports as caring about winning, losing and improving.  In all likelihood, we did not start playing youth sports in this way.  We, like our children, were most excited about seeing our friends, running around having fun, and getting some ice cream when it was all over. We may start our kids in sports with the wrong end in mind. We think of the end we want for them, or maybe even the end we wanted for ourselves. The problem with starting youth sports with a particular end in mind, is that it can lead us (parent, coach, youth administrator) to push children in too much of a specific sport too fast. We know that doing so leads to kids dropping out of that sport, or all sports.

We can re-start youth sport with an altered mindset that finds kids where they are, not where we want them to be. We can design for development, not just competition. Doing so will create a youth sports narrative based on skills that will serve all children well, long after the game has ended. Later this year, Project Play WNY will be launching the Cornerstone Program to offer resources that support this new narrative. The programs offer youth sports organizations and parents an opportunity to reimagine and reboot youth sports to build happier kids, healthier families and stronger communities. Visit the resources page at to learn more. If you wish to become part of this growing movement, please email us at