Parents are growing less comfortable with their kids playing youth sports during the pandemic

youth sports coronavirus pandemic
Photo via USAG-Humphreys/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge throughout the summer, fewer parents think their kids will be safe if they play youth sports. 

A new national survey by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative and Utah State University shows that just 53% of parents “expect their child to resume sports activity at the same or higher amount when current restrictions are removed.” In April, 70% of surveyed parents saw their kids returning to sports. 

The survey shows that parents are more comfortable with individual sports (68.8%) than team sports. They are especially uncomfortable with sports that entail travel (43.8%). 

“It is striking how quickly parents have reevaluated their priorities for their children in youth sport,” Dr. Travis Dorsch, the study’s director and founding director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University, said. “Although parents held high hopes at the initial stages of the pandemic for a relatively quick return to normal, the extension of youth sport-related restrictions into the summer seems to have parents rethinking the widely accepted model of competitive youth sport in America.”

Concern for their children’s health is the primary reason parents feel uneasy about sports. The study found that six out of 10 parents “view their child getting sick as a barrier to resuming sports,” while five out of 10 “worry they personally will become ill.” 

Those concerns are not unfounded. In July, experts said that youth sports were “the primary source of spread in the community” in the St. Louis area, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis County officials said there were six to eight new cases of COVID-19 reported daily in children and teens ages 10-19, and cited football conditioning workouts at two high schools as problem areas. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has health and safety guidelines for youth sports. The CDC says the risk for COVID-19 increases as kids interact with more people: 

  • Lowest Risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone, or with family members
  • Increasing Risk: Team-based practice
  • More Risk: Within-team competition
  • Even More Risk: Full competition between teams from the same local geographic area
  • Highest Risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas

The CDC recommends players and coaches stay home if sick and bring their own equipment, like gloves and bats, if possible. They also recommend social distancing, face coverings for everyone, and plenty of extra handwashing. 

Black and Asian parents were more concerned than white parents, according to the study. Additionally, the study found that parents economically impacted by the pandemic were less likely to re-enroll their kids in sports. Therefore, the economy “may again widen the gap in sports participation opportunities.”

“When examining our data across U.S. region, community type, race, sex, and family income, it is apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced differently by different subgroups across the country,” Dorsch said. “It will be important moving forward to acknowledge and address the needs of these groups as we lay out a plan to safely and responsibly bring back youth sports.”

Sources: Aspen Project Play, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, CDC

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