How Hard Is It To Wave?

Steve Boyle. Submitted photo

West Hartford resident Steve Boyle, founder of 2-4-1 Sports and a guidance counselor and former coach in the West Hartford Public Schools, shares his thoughts about iPhones and interpersonal interaction.

Steve Boyle. Submitted photo

Steve Boyle. Submitted photo

By Steve Boyle


There’s irony in the fact that as I write this, I know darn well that a large majority of you who are kind enough to be reading it – are probably doing so on your phones. I’m right there with you … but, I almost hope that by writing this, it gets me to change at least some of my habits.

I walked into Starbucks the other morning and the line was at least 15 deep. I, at least peripherally, knew more than half of the folks in line. But, every single person – even those I knew – did not look up from their phones. And admittedly, I took my place in the queue and followed their cue – nose down until it was my turn to order and use the device to pay for my coffee.

Later that day, driving home in my own neighborhood, I saw a friend who I instantly became worried about. She was talking to herself – out loud – and with exaggerated animation using her hands the entire time. She literally looked possessed. It wasn’t until I pulled up alongside her that I realized she had headphones in and was actually on the phone. I had done the slow crawl, ready to roll down the window when I got the, “Can’t you see that I’m on the phone” look. And I somewhat embarrassingly drove away.

This fall, I’ve rediscovered my running “playground.” If any of you have been to the reservoir on Farmington avenue on the outskirts of West Hartford, you know how incredibly picturesque it is. I used to practically live on those trails over a decade ago – but for a number of reasons (crazy story for another time), I hadn’t been back to run there in a mighty long time. After a couple of recent visits, I noticed something didn’t feel right. It was incredibly disturbing and so different from my experience just one decade ago … which was right in line with my Starbucks and my driving home in the neighborhood experience. The visual serenity remained, but there was something considerably wrong otherwise. I decided to do an experiment.

I solicited the help of a friend who joined me on an extended loop of about 4 miles. I would wave and make eye contact with every single person we encountered whether we were passing them (going in the same direction) or if we met them (they were going in the opposite direction). In 32 minutes, we passed 56 groups or individuals and I waved to every single person. Guess how many return waves I got? Four. Yep 4 for 56! I got a couple of head bobs mixed in there, but I was looking for a return wave, so the obligatory head bob was sometimes worse – as if saying, “Yeah, I see you, but you’re not worth the wave.” HOW HARD IS IT TO WAVE!!!!! I mean really, it’s almost the exact same motion as checking the text on your phone – just keep going up another few inches.

How did we arrive here? Well, I really think there are a number of factors at play.

Anecdotally, I think that one is somewhat subjective, but I remember distinctly that people … strangers in fact … were much more friendly after 9/11 which was right before the last time I spent a lot of time running – and waving. It was as if all Americans felt that we were on the same team and there was simply less skepticism. But, I’d have to say that June 29, 2007, is what changed it the most. You know what happened on that day? That’s the day the first iPhone came out (feels like they’ve been around a lot longer than that doesn’t it?). Don’t get me wrong – I’m practically addicted to mine and feel like my first child has gone missing in an amusement park when I suddenly think I’ve lost it. But, what has it done to us? And what does this have to do with 2-4-1 Sports?

Well – I’m a big believer that if you want to see a behavior, you have to model a behavior. I think we’re approaching a dangerous point in society where we’re losing the art – and gift – of interacting with each other. I think youth sports is a perfect place to practice some of these skills. But, sadly, because of isolated incidents around the country, some are even calling for an end to end-of-game handshakes because they sometimes lead to fights. Ughhh!

Here are a few suggestions that I have:

  • Build interpersonal interaction into practice. I would start every one of mine in a circle essentially asking everyone how their day was and sharing a personal anecdote from mine. It was often the best five minutes of my day and always set a good tone.
  • Have your players shake the hands of their opponent right before the opening whistle if possible.
  • Don’t allow your players to have headphones in while training/practicing with a teammate.
  • Insist that teammates show appreciation for someone that has given them an assist – or assisted in any way at all.
  • All successful teams communicate well – help kids see the benefit of talking purposefully as a team – and how that translates to life.
  • Model gratefulness. Ask your kids to thank their coaches after each practice.
  • Insist that your players – whether they won or lost – go through the end of game handshake line and make eye contact and use an expression that is genuine. Make this a priority. And practice it if necessary.

Look – smartphones are here to stay and they’re probably the tip of the iceberg in terms of what will technologically further isolate us. But, one of the great things about sports is that you can’t hide behind technology. You have to interact!

So, now that you’ve read this, put down the phone, go and find your child and teach them the fine art of a firm handshake and a gentle hug. Have a great week everyone – and if you see me – don’t forget to wave!
Steve Boyle is co-founder/director of 2-4-1 Sports. This essay was originally published in the 2-4-1 Sports newsletter and has been reprinted with the permission of Steve Boyle.
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