While Pro And College Athletes Fight Through A Pandemic, Kids Have A Tougher Path

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The Lowell High School girls soccer team fist bumps before a game this month in Massachusetts. The coronavirus pandemic has curtailed youth athletics leaving some students scrambling for opportunities.

Stan Grossfeld/Boston Globe via Getty Images


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Antonio Jimenez (L) and his father Antonio Garcia at their home in Portland, Ore. Jimenez, a 16-year-old high school junior, has been trying to develop his basketball skills during the pandemic by training in small groups with other players and shooting several hundred jump shots daily at home.

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Her ballet, jazz and modern dance have been confined to zoom classes. Lee says it’s been too much, considering her school classes also are online. As a result, her motivation flagged.

«It can be pretty easy to just, like, forget about moving and stuff.»

She hasn’t completely forgotten.

Lee says she takes long walks with her family and plays frisbee in the park with her younger sister. She says post-pandemic, she’ll dance and play high school frisbee again. Not as much as before, but at least she’ll come back.

Others, might not.

A toll on youth sports, and imagining a better future

A months-long, national survey of youth sports during the pandemic, revealed three kids in ten, won’t come back to sports.

«And that’s kind of, to me, scary,» said Utah State University associate professor Travis Dorsch. He was the lead researcher for the study commissioned by the Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative.

«What we’re seeing, through this pandemic,» Dorsch said, «either because they’re finding other interests, or because they’re realizing sport wasn’t a huge part of what [they] wanted to do in the beginning, children are telling us, or their parents are telling us [in the survey], they don’t want to come back to youth sports. At least the way it was.»

Dorsch says another reason kids are pulling away – their families, hit hard by the pandemic, can’t afford sports anymore. Indeed, the outbreak has exacerbated a long standing gap between who can pay and who can’t. Advocates say with the pandemic largely putting a pause on youth sports, the time is ripe for re-imagining them to make them more affordable and accessible.

«One of the things [the Aspen Institute] has wanted to do,» Dorsch said, «is create more close to home opportunities to play. In most cases, we don’t need to be driving 50, 100 or 500 miles, or getting on an airplane, to go play children in the sport we love. So the idea is [to] create the resources necessary to allow every municipality, every community, to have a solid infrastructure of youth sport offerings. Such that, any kid that wants to participate, at any age, can play a sport.»

It’s an important goal, but Dorsch says there’s a more immediate situation to confront. The survey questioned parents nationwide in June and September. While it showed kids’ participation increased from summer to fall, it also revealed the pandemic has taken a toll.

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«When you take a step back and look at [the survey results] through a public health lens,» Dorsch said, «we now have a generation of young people who, for half of a year…and it’s going to be longer…haven’t been getting the necessary opportunity to move their body.»

It appears the recovery from that will be jumbled.

Right now a patchwork of organized sports opportunities is emerging state to state. Some sports are opening up, even prompting high schoolers to transfer across state lines so they can play.

On the other hand, you have situations like the one announced last week. Seven northeastern states agreed to suspend interstate youth hockey competition at least through the end of the year, reportedly because the events were tied to coronavirus outbreaks.

Like much with the pandemic, there’ll be confusion in youth sports….before clarity.

  • high school sports
  • coronavirus

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