By Ken Reed

From the time I was seven years old, I participated in various organized youth sports on a year-round basis. In the spring and summer it was baseball. In the fall, football. And in the winter, basketball. As I moved into my high school years, I added golf and tennis. At that point, I often was involved in two sports, to one degree or another, at the same time.

Sadly, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, that kind of sports activity is nearly impossible for young people today — especially for kids in poorer communities.

Tom Farrey, director of the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen institute believes we’re in a “moment of historic crisis.

Youth sports leagues are on hold. Community recreation centers are shut down. High school sports are being delayed, and in some cases skipped this year. Overall, youth sports participation is down significantly from a year ago at this time.

“Everything is closed down,” says Tyrone Riley, boys varsity basketball coach at Jordan High School in the Watts area of South Los Angeles and a youth sports parent.

It’s not only indoor gyms and recreation centers that are closed. In many parts of the country playgrounds and outdoor basketball courts are blocked off by fences, safety hazard tape or locked gates.

According to research by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative, time spent on youth sports practices is down 54% during the pandemic and game time is down 59% as of September 2020 compared to June 2020. The average child is spending approximately 6.5 hours less on sports per week during Covid-19 relative to pre-pandemic levels.

The youth sports opportunity gap between poorer communities like Watts and middle-class and wealthy communities — which was already large pre-Covid — is growing during the pandemic. Many suburban communities have youth sports clubs that have started operations up again. Those sports opportunities typically don’t exist in communities like Watts.

The scary part for the future is that many kids have moved on to other activities, including sedentary activities like video games. According to the Aspen Institute study, 30% of young people likely won’t return to sports. That could negatively impact their physical and mental health moving forward.

“A lot of kids have checked out of sports,” according to Farrey.

The negative ramifications of this pandemic on our youth could last a while.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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