The Covid Dilemma For Youth and High School Athletes and Their Parents
By Ken Reed
We’re in the midst of both a coronavirus pandemic and a childhood obesity epidemic. As such, there’s a dilemma for young athletes and their parents: Is the risk of playing organized sports during the Covid pandemic greater than the risk of the negative physical and mental impacts of not playing?
Young people need to move their bodies for both physical and mental health reasons. However, Covid-19 makes parents and some kids wonder if it’s safe to play organized team sports. According to the Aspen Institute, 50% of parents fear kids will get sick returning to sports. And this isn’t just an issue about kids. Is conducting youth and high school sports safe for the adult coaches, officials, organizers and administrators who make youth and high school sports possible? And while children and teenagers playing sports might not be at a high level of risk themselves, what about the parents and grandparents they go home to and interact with after practices, games and other team functions?
Here’s the challenge: When it comes to the wellbeing of our young people, we can’t just focus on Covid. We also have to consider the negative impact of physical inactivity on our youth. And also the negative impact of young people being socially isolated from their peers.
Since the 1980s, the obesity rate has doubled among children between two and 11 and quadrupled in teens 12 to 19. Those are pre-Covid stats. Things have gotten worse since the coronavirus hit our shores. There has been nearly a 50% drop in physical activity among U.S. children from the start of the pandemic, according to a survey done in September by The Aspen Institute. That spike in physical inactivity will undoubtedly have negative health implications.
In addition, many kids are struggling mentally and emotionally without sports. A survey of high school athletes conducted by the University of Wisconsin in July found 68% were experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that typically require medical intervention. That figure is nearly 37% higher than pre-Covid surveys.
“The results are both striking and concerning,” said Dr. Claudia Reardon, associate professor of psychiatry at Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health.
In an era of childhood obesity — in which kids are spending more time staring at screens than ever — we need our young people to be more active, not less. What’s particularly concerning is that young people are finding things other than sports to spend their time on during the Covid shutdown. Their interest in playing sports has dropped. Nearly three out of 10 children who played a sport before the pandemic are no longer interested in participating, according to the Aspen Institute study. Along the same lines, only 53% of parents expect their children to resume their sports participation at the same or higher rate as before Covid restrictions set in.
One thing is for sure, the challenge of getting kids active in sports won’t end after the Covid pandemic ends. The epidemics of obesity and physical inactivity among our young people will remain. Once public health authorities believe it’s safe for all of us to resume normal activities, there will still be a strong need for a well-conceived and well-coordinated marketing and communications campaign targeted at young people and their parents designed to increase sports participation and get kids moving again.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
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Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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