Questions remain over survival of youth sports during, after pandemic

Reporter: Veronica Marshall
Published: Updated:

A healthy outlet for kids that families have enjoyed for decades may not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts say youth sports are taking a hit and the losses could have long-term effects.

“I like going out and competing and having fun,” said 15-year-old Timmy Miller, who plays for the Gateway Flag Football League. “I made a lot of friends through playing.”

After nine years on the field, Timmy says playing flag football has changed his life for the better – and the benefits aren’t just social.

He said, “It gets me more conditioned for other leagues or something at my school. I feel like it helps my health a lot.”

Research finds that competitive sports help young athletes lower their rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

But Gateway Flag Football had to press pause this season. Tim Miller, an organizer with the league, said, “We had a spring season scheduled that ended up getting canceled. As a non-profit league, we weren’t in a position to get everybody a refund and just come back and do it next time. We gave them a credit for our future season.”

Experts warn, some leagues, which rely on registration fees, concession sales, fundraisers and donations, may not come back at all.

Luke Zaientz is with the PLAY Sports Coalition. He explains, “Certain businesses are very fragile when things like pandemics come around. Most of the groups that are creating experiences for kids are not wildly profitable. Organizations that survive, often have less of an ability to take in disadvantaged families and kids. And then there’s a lot of organizations that were on the fringe that just don’t make it.”

PLAY Sports is lobbying Congress to help youth sports programs survive the pandemic, but he says leagues have work to do too, reassuring families it’s safe to come back.

“For parents, they’re kind of in a weird time, where they’re trying to make a decision about the safety for their kids. It’s certainly not a perfect answer staying home and playing video games all day. It’s not a perfect answer of going out and having some risk of getting sick either,” Zaientz added.

But for Timmy, the idea of hanging up his flag and cleats isn’t one he wants to tackle, saying, “That would hurt a lot because I have a lot of memories playing flag football, and it being done – it wouldn’t be good. I wouldn’t probably be as active.”

The PLAY Sports Coalition created a playbook based on CDC guidelines to help youth sports leagues prepare to play again.

It covers topics like how to assess contagion risks and what to do if a player gets sick.


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