With the change in seasons comes the kickoff of fall sports — until this year. Athletic teams of all levels are postponing or canceling their seasons, and youth sports are no exception.
For the millions of kids who play organized sports, that means no muddy practices, no pre-game chants and no chance to play — and beat! — their team’s league rivals.
In other words, the cancelation of sports seasons is way more than just the loss of an opportunity to exercise.
“Sports is about prioritizing teamwork and hard work, learning from mistakes, building self-confidence, dealing with pressure, making sacrifices, growing from adversity and so much more,” says Dr. Celeste Quitiquit, associate director of the pediatric residency program at the UW School of Medicine who sees sports medicine patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “There’s no way you’ll go through sports undefeated. You have to get over challenges. And, there are a lot of challenges out there right now.”
And as COVID-19 continues to pose challenges for us to navigate, Quitiquit gives tips for how you can help your kid understand the situation, stay active and have fun — even when there are no sports games on the schedule.
Talking about this season’s game plan
So you’ve found out that fall football is a no-go. How do you break the news to your star quarterback?
Quitiquit recommends starting the conversation by asking your kid what they understand so far about COVID-19 and why they think they can’t play sports right now. From there, she suggests framing the situation like a game.
“You can explain that it’s about protecting their teammates, coaches and community,” Quitiquit says. “It’s like all of us playing against the virus and we need to beat it. And we can’t let the virus win. We all have to do our part.”
She says you can outline a “game plan” with ground rules for your family to follow:
- You have to have physical distance between you and your teammates.
- You have to wear a face covering when you’re out in public and can’t maintain 6 feet of space between others.
- You have to practice diligent hand hygiene.
Quitiquit notes that this sports-minded approach won’t work with all children, especially those who are feeling anxious about the pandemic.
When talking to kids about COVID-19, it can be helpful to validate their feelings, give them age-appropriate facts, stay positive and offer ways to help them stay active — while acknowledging their sports season will look different this year. It is important to be both honest and optimistic.
New ways to play
Alright, coach. Now it’s time to sweat. Depending on the age of your kids, Quitiquit recommends different activities to get their heart rates up and their smiles from ear to ear.
“For elementary and middle school aged kids, we can get active with activities like ball skill games, relays, jump roping, walks, hikes, bike rides and scootering,” she says.
For older kids and teenagers, Quitiquit says it’s feasible for them to meet up with friends for workouts as long as they follow COVID-19 youth sports precautions: being distanced outside, wearing a face covering and following guidelines around sharing equipment.
“They can get creative and find a set of stairs and do challenges, they can work on sport-specific skills or they can set up conditioning games and circuits with the same group of five teammates,” she says. “Teams could even get 25 teammates on a screen for a virtual workout.”
In other words, if everyone wears face coverings, practices diligent hand hygiene and stays at least 6 feet apart, it’s possible for your kid to workout with teammates outdoors.
Contact sports, however, are not a safe bet when it comes to limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is spread from person to person, and between people who are in close contact through respiratory droplets,” explains Quitiquit. “Traditional scrimmaging or games for soccer, football and basketball, for example, are not games that can be played by people within 6 feet of one another.”
But one thing that isn’t canceled? Exercise. And the many benefits that go along with it.
“Exercise is the least expensive way to stay healthy and prevent chronic disease,” says Quitiquit. “Exercise is medicine, and moving your body activates your brain. It positively affects your attitude. It impacts your concentration. And it helps with decreasing feelings of sadness and anxiety.”
So while your kid’s volleyball season may have been spiked to next spring, keeping them active is important — whether it be by bumping the ball back and forth at a nearby park, or picking up a new sport together.
“While we are limited in our gatherings outside the home, we can continue to take advantage of trying to connect with our family both physically and mentally,” says Quitiquit.
Side effects of a sidelined season
It’s important to note that all kids respond to change in different ways, and a canceled sports season may weigh heavier on some kids than others.
“Not all kids respond to stress in the same way,” says Quitiquit. “Younger kids might cry more often, get upset easily or have more developmental regressions.”
Other kids may respond by being excessively worried about COVID-19 to the extent that they isolate themselves from others.
“And for older kids, I’d watch for patterns of unhealthy eating, if their sleep habits are out of whack or if they’re more irritable than usual,” says Quitiquit. “You may notice them being more zoned out, or have difficulty concentrating. These are both early depression symptoms as well as signs of inactivity.”
If this is the case, how should you proceed?
“Try to engage more with your kid. Start by opening up with what you’ve been challenged by during this time,” says Quitiquit. “Identify these challenges for yourself first, and then use that to open up the conversation with them. We need to acknowledge what has been lost and then refocus and find the opportunities.”
But if you feel like these problems are persisting or worsening, reach out to your child’s doctor.
Building on skills learned from sports
The absence of a sports team — and the structure and learning that come with it — can be concerning as a parent.
But there is something good to keep in mind: While playing sports has a laundry list of benefits, a canceled season doesn’t mean your child will lose all of the skills they’ve learned from being on previous teams.
“All the things that sports do outside of physical activity, like set goals and build teamwork, develop connectedness and leadership skills — your kid has been a part of that,” says Quitiquit. “Your kid has learned those skills from sports, and they have it in them. So what you can do is focus on re-creating and building upon those skills through physical activity.”
And according to Quitiquit, those skills will come in handy for the rest of their life.
“There’s evidence to say that by being physically active as a kid, you’re developing skills that allow you to be active when you’re an adult,” she says.
So until we cross the finish line of the COVID-19 pandemic, know that your kid will benefit from the exercise they get now — for their next sport season, and for years to come.