The Covid-19 pandemic shocked the world a year ago. It has changed almost every aspect of life for people, both young and old. The pandemic, along with all of the stress, anxiety, and restrictions that came with it, has taken both a psychological and physical toll on everyone. In many ways, over the past year, our population has dealt with the pandemic much like one might experience the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). The good news, we are now in the acceptance stage and we have the available information and science necessary to determine how and when we can begin to transition back to “normal” life.
For many families, this “normal” life includes youth sports. Starting in March 2020, youth sports was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Aspen Institute, children were engaging in athletic activity 6 1/2 hours less than they were prior to the pandemic. Considering both the mental and physical health benefits athletics have to offer our young children, it is safe to say it is time for our kids to get back in the game! With that said, we should not be so naïve to think this does not come with risk that should not be calculated. After all, Covid-19 is still a reality and part of our new normal. Take the time to consider the following before you sign up your son/daughter for next season.
The Health Risk
Just as no two children are the same, no two families are the same either. As I mentioned above, the pandemic has not gone away. While the world has made strides in vaccinations and treatment, the reality is we are not out of the weeds yet! Each family should consider their own individual health factors before rejoining youth team sports. Children with or having family members in the home with existing conditions or considered at high risk should evaluate the cost/benefits of returning to youth athletics. If you need some additional help assessing these risks, the CDC has a page dedicated to providing information for those who are at an increased risk.
Evaluate the Program
At this point, there is a lot of information available to the youth community regarding safety protocols and procedures for a safe return to youth sports. If the program you are pondering signing your child up for does not have an extensive return to play policy, I would advise proceeding with caution. With that said, those without a protocol are likely to be the minority. Most leagues or programs post their policies on their website for the public, but if you cannot find it, contact the league or program to obtain a copy. Review the policy and decide if you and your family feel comfortable with the rules and guidelines put in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for your child. If you want to compare the program’s guidelines to those suggested by the CDC, the “Considerations for Youth Sports Administrators” offers up to date information that youth athletic program administrators and organizers should be consulting when developing their return to play policies.
Talk To Your Child
As parents, we often overlook the most important factor when making decisions concerning our children, our children. Once you have done your research and gathered enough information, consider your child’s thoughts and opinions on the matter. Discuss the return to play policy with them and make sure they are comfortable with their expectations. You might be surprised to find that the particular sport you are considering is not one your child enjoyed very much to begin with. For example, I always assumed my young son enjoyed playing basketball, but when we told him that parents were not allowed to attend games this season, he responded with “I would rather not play then. I know how much you like watching me.” When we take the time to include our children in the decision-making process, we not only provide them a voice, but we also, more often than not, walk away with a better understanding of our children.
While it does appear that there is some light at the end of the Covid-19 Pandemic tunnel, science tells us we still have a ways to go. As parents, it is our responsibility to make informed decisions for our children and serve as good role models who play our part in the fight against the Covid-19 Pandemic. Be prepared to come to the conclusion that a return to play for a particular sport might not be in the cards for your family right now. Again, no two families are the same. If this is the case, explore other opportunities that might present a safer form of physical activity for your child. You never know, trying a new activity or sport might lead to a new found interest or talent for your child. Ultimately, we all want to “get back in the game” so to speak, but it is wise to do so safely and responsibly.