The Uncertain Future of Youth Sport

For many, if not most, youth in America sports are a large part of life. As Americans we grow up watching them, learning how to play them in our schools and many of us join a team at some point or another – possibly holding hopes for an eventual future as a pro.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, as some state-mandated isolations stretch longer and longer and others begin to loosen almost – it can seem – as soon as they began, many are asking the question: what will it look like when we can get back to sports?

Within Washington State, sports will likely not be able to start up until late June or early July at the earliest under Governor Inslee’s Safe Start approach. By this time, many sports have lost their spring season. This includes rowing. For many sporting clubs and organizations, missing out on a whole season of income leaves them floundering.

Some organizations have taken a risk and began to play or practice. One example is a youth baseball tournament in Missouri that took place this past weekend. In the first major sports gathering since the Corona Virus shook the United States, 600 athletes from 47 teams gathered to participate in the youth tournament.

Zachary Binney, an Epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, criticized the event on Twitter.

Binney suggested that sports should start up slowly. “Start with small practices, then single games between local teams,” he wrote Sunday.

He called out the tournament, expressing concerns on the idea of bringing youth into close contact with no protection.

“6’ distancing, masks, modified rules – these are all steps to mitigate damage when you have to gather, like at the grocery store,” Binney said in a Tweet.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) issued national guidelines to help sports organizations begin to “return to play.” The USOPC recommendations break down the return to sports into five phases based on local mandates, from Phase 1, which discusses measures during shelter-in-place types of restriction to Phase 5, which discusses protocol when an eventual vaccine or cure may be found.

Despite the plans and procedures that many are attempting to put in place as a way to re-introduce sports post-COVID, many parents are still wary about letting their children play.

In a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Project Play in partnership with North Carolina State University and Utah State University, 50% of all parents who participated in the survey worry about their children getting sick due to sports and 46% of parents worried about themselves falling ill as a bystander to the sporting events.

While sports may be allowed to start again in a matter of months, the number of participants may be affected due to lingering concerns about the virus and whether protective measures are being withdrawn too soon. As sports and group activities are phased back in, teams may see limited practice sizes or staggered practice times, smaller teams, and much more frequent breaks to clean equipment.

Participation will also be affected by the number of people who have been economically impacted by the Coronavirus. With record-breaking amounts of people filing for unemployment and losing their jobs, the United States has not seen this kind of economic impact since the Great Depression.

Now, we can only speculate about how this event will not only affect sports but affect society in the long run. It is likely that when team sports are allowed to begin again, we will see smaller team sizes, fewer clubs, and many new protocols.

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