COVID-19 kept all of us from participating in our normal lives, but perhaps no one more than kids and young athletes. And some now fear that kids are turning away from organized sports altogether.
Per NJ.com, athletic officials in New Jersey estimate a 15-20% reduction in middle school and high school students participating in sports in 2020-21. And the younger the kids, the worse it seems to get.
For instance, multiple schools across the country were unable to field freshmen football, volleyball, soccer or track teams for one reason: they didn’t have enough kids who wanted to participate.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to call this a potential crisis,” Dan Vivino, the athletic director at Westwood High in Bergen County, N.J., told NJ.com. “If the quarantine rules that we’re following stay the same into next year, there’s some cause for real concern about the compounding effect of this. We’re going to be in trouble.”
Everything has changed in the era of COVID and the fears (and yes, politics) that come with it — from working remotely to how movies are released to the cancellation of concerts to even how we are able to exercise.
COVID also seems to be among the many reasons fewer people seem to care about sports — both in terms of viewing them, and clearly for kids, in participating in them.
“There’s going to be short-term impact and long-term impact,” Colleen Maguire, executive director of New Jersey’s governing body for high school sports, told NJ.com. “To think that all sports at all levels will just return to what it was prior to the pandemic is really unreasonable.”
That’s where this becomes a real shame. Not only did the pandemic pause sports, but it also will likely have a lasting impact on them.
Of course, it can’t all be blamed on the pandemic. With phones and the apps that come with them consuming so much of kids’ time, interest in things outside of the phone seem to be weening with each passing year.
Per a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, “In 2018, only 38% of kids ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45% in 2008.”
Along with that, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that in 2018-19, participation in high school sports declined nationally for the first time in 30 years.
So youth and high school sports participation was already suffering. Thanks to COVID, it may never bounce back.