Jeff Tracy at Axios reports Youth sports remain in a moment of crisis, as the health and financial situations brought on by the pandemic continue wreaking havoc. As evidence, he cites an Aspen Institute survey of more than 1,000 parents with sport-playing kids between ages 6 and 18.
Among the most significant findings of that study:
- 64% cite fear of their child contracting COVID as a barrier to resuming sports.
- 6.4 fewer hours: Kids are spending just 7.2 hours per week playing sports, down from 13.6 before the pandemic.
The kids that are trying to continue to play indoor team sports like ice hockey are doing so in the greatest sustained period of uncertainty in history. Aspen said that 29% of parents said “their kids are simply not interested in sports, up from 19% when they were last asked in June.”
Who can blame the kids for wondering why they should try, if rinks are getting locked down again because parents are getting infected with COVID-19 through their hangout sessions in the arena parking lot during practice?
We hate to single out governors of New England states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but blanket orders shutting down all arenas in each state don’t get at the root causes of the small COVID-19 outbreaks that they are trying to tamp down.
We can’t say that we have definitive data as to why these small outbreaks are occurring. But if you look at what’s happening around local ice arenas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, you’d find:
- Parents and guardians congregating in parking lots for an hour or more at least twice a week, often not social distancing or wearing masks correctly. These parents do so because they are prohibited from staying in the arena during their young hockey player or figure skater’s event.
- Arena safety policies which look good on paper, but are often inconsistently applied. Most arenas are requiring players / skaters to dress at home and only put on and adjust items like skates and helmets inside the arena, which is good. But in your typical local arena, there is not enough staff walking around and politely saying, “hey don’t sit that close to each other”, or “wear your mask while you’re tying your skates”. They also aren’t enforcing the one-way flow of customers so groups going on the ice and off the ice don’t meet, and they aren’t enforcing separate area for tying skates if there is not enough time between sessions to clear the arena.
- If arenas were really worried about enforcing social distancing, they’d do something like expanding the bench areas, so that players and coaches had more room off ice to spread out between shifts of a hockey game.
In terms of things that could really cut down on community spread opportunities at rinks, these New England states would be better off asking the local police to cruise the parking lots of local arenas in the late afternoon, and remind parents not to congregate– or at least to wear masks and separate themselves as much as possible while waiting for their kids who are inside.