A common sight on social media in recent weeks has been an image of a child playing, laughing or otherwise engaging with nature – along with a caption, almost certainly from a parent, asserting that “the kids are going to be all right.”
That’s a comforting sentiment, but in the midst of a global pandemic that has temporarily halted so many youth sports – hockey included – is it really true? How do we keep our youngest players – 6U and 8U – active and positive at a time like this?
Dr. Michael Kanters, a professor at North Carolina State who has studied extensively the impact and importance of youth sports, is hoping to find answers to those questions.
His research team, in partnership with Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Aspen Institute, recently launched a national survey aimed at athletes ages 8-18 and their parents.
“The unfortunate reality is that nobody has a basis for knowing what to do or how do deal with this. We want to get a handle on how they’re reacting,” said Kanters. “How are they doing, how are they compensating, what is their level of expectation and when do they expect to participate again?”
Here are some of Kanters’ observations along those lines:
While the data has yet to be fully analyzed, anecdotally Kanters says he is hearing that athletes even at the youngest levels are finding alternative outlets and ways to stay connected.
“At least in early stages kids were doing drills, having workout scheduled, coaches were staying connected with athletes to give them drills and activities,” Kanters said.
The danger is that the longer this goes on, the harder it will get.
“At some point, we practice for a period of time and if we don’t have competitions to engage in it’s hard to stay engaged with those sports,” Kanters said. “That’s my fear is that we’re going to have kids that lose interest.”
On the bright side, Kanters says he believes that once restrictions are lifted young athletes “will come back quickly.”
He used an analogy of a vacation filled with rough patches like bad weather and fighting kids. A month later? “You wipe out those negative memories and latch onto the positive ones. I think that’s going to happen and we’ll settle into routines quickly,” he said.
The youngest athletes tend to be the most resilient, he adds. They aren’t saddled by expectations like adults, nor do they have as much invested in their sports like older athletes.
“My feeling is that the younger the age the more adaptable they’re going to be and they will be able to rebound back. You start getting into high school sports and that’s going to be far more challenging,” said Kanters, using his daughter, a competitive swimmer in high school, as an example.
“But 6- to 10-year-olds, I really think they’ll bounce back quickly. The memory of this period will fade fast. They live much more in the moment than we do. What’s the distraction of the moment?”
To that end, Kanters says he has been heartened by what he has heard and seen.
“Get them outside, keep them moving,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of great stories of coaches staying connected, group meetings using Zoom, to continue to get together and talk about the game. There are lots of things to do to keep them connected – a critical part of that child-sport experience.”
From this experience, too, might come lasting changes. Perhaps if there is a positive to come from it in the youth sports realm, with our youngest athletes, it’s a re-setting of priorities.
With specialization and outcome-based thinking filtering down into even the youngest levels, Kanters sees this time as a chance to reassess what’s really important.
“We’re going to need to continue to communicate and work together better than we have in the past,” Kanters said. “Maybe this could be used as a correction factor – get back to kids participating in multiple sports and minimize importance of travel or elite teams. What’s really important is to have the opportunity to play sports and develop a love of the game and to have a repertoire of skills to keep playing into adulthood.”
Tag(s): ADM Features