The effort to get students back in the classroom — albeit in a safe manner — is important. Not only is it better academically for most students, but it is essential to their emotional and social growth.
But the need to bring young people together for athletic competition is also important — physically as well as mentally.
That was wisely recognized last week by Washington state as Gov. Jay Inslee’s office released a five-page plan to allow most youth sports in most counties the opportunity to resume activities, including scrimmages and games against other teams.
This does not mean all will return to the pre-coronavirus days. Guidelines will be in place that emphasize the need for social distancing among athletes, coaches and spectators. Good hygiene is mandated and coaches must keep diligent attendance logs for contact tracing.
The new plan also requires athletes to wear masks directly before and after activities and “strongly” encourages them to wear masks during less-strenuous activities, according to Seattle Times’ reporting.
Many sports, leagues and clubs will be required to publish or distribute return-to-play safety plans.
This also makes good sense if, and only if, every step is taken seriously with health and safety being the top priority.
The experience of being on a team, from elementary school through high school, can be special. It can be a bonding experience with others that lasts a lifetime.
In addition, but perhaps even more importantly, youth sports provide emotional and psychological benefits for participants.
Dr. Jon Drezner, the director of the University of Washington’s Center for Sports Cardiology, was central to developing the return-to-play plan approved by the governor’s office. Drezner cited a study from the University of Wisconsin this summer that showed 68% of adolescent athletes experienced symptoms of depression after schools and sports were closed in the spring, the Times reported.
Kyle Rodeheaver, a Seattle area soccer coach who was part of the return-to-play committee, emphasizes the “unseen advantage” of reopening youth sports is the emotional and psychological health benefits it will give young athletes.
“This sense of ‘normalcy’ that youth sports will bring may be the most understated positive to come out of these new guidelines,” Rodeheaver said.
But this will only be a success if all coaches, parents and athletes take these new guidelines and the continued threat of COVID-19 extremely seriously.