Youth Sports Organizations Join Forces Virtually to Address the Challenges of COVID-19

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that kids and teens ages 6 to 17 get 60 minutes of activity every day. Physical activity provides many benefits for the health and development of youth and can be an important coping mechanism during difficult and stressful times. Playing sports is one way that kids and teens can get the physical activity they need, but opportunities for physical activity have changed a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as it relates to sports. Youth sports organizations, many of which have paused or shut down, have been working hard to find creative ways to support youth during this time. 

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) hosted a series of six virtual workshops last summer, bringing together 106 youth sports stakeholders from different regions of the United States to share their challenges and brainstorm solutions for reintroducing youth sports in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants included representatives from schools, park and recreation departments, foundations, youth sports organizations, and more.  

Workshop participants generated many innovative ideas, summarized below, that you may find useful for your community.  

  • Meet kids where they are. Use platforms that they’re already familiar with, like TikTok, to create fun challenges. And don’t be shy: ask youth, and parents, what they want!  

    • Consider creating youth and parent advisory committees to help inform your next steps. 
  • Rethink competition. Your sport might not translate well in a virtual or at-home environment and that’s okay. Use this time to keep kids active and engaged in other ways. Consider teaching a skill of the week, trying out other sports, or designing activities that can involve adults or family members. 

    • Try offering different options and modifications that siblings or caregivers can try, regardless of their skill or fitness level.   
  • Continue to serve and support youth, even beyond sports. Your program may have been a big part of youth’s social, emotional, and physical health, and you can continue to be there for them, even if it’s not through sports programming. Consider providing food, COVID-19 testing information and resources, grocery bag giveaways, WiFi hot spots, etc.—whatever you can to support youth continuing to thrive. If resources allow, try creating a “Wi-Fi to go” in a parking lot or turning school buses into mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. 

  • Get creative with socially distant or virtual fundraising events. Explore different options for new fundraising opportunities like auctions, e-sports, or virtual 5ks. 

  • Consider different options for funding. If the businesses or organizations you typically turn to are struggling, explore non-traditional options, like virtual technology providers, or seek out new partnerships to share resources. 

  • Track participation. Tracking attendance may be different than a typical headcount, but you can leverage technology—like bit.lys, QR codes, and YouTube or Google analytics—to monitor reach, clicks, and viewership of virtual programming.  

    • Not sure where to start? Search for a beginner guide online, or find a student looking for a problem-based learning project experience. 
  • Use the great outdoors. If you don’t have access to your typical training spot, there may be other outdoor spaces you can use, like a park or an open street that was created during COVID-19. Not all communities have safe outdoor spaces, so make sure to involve the community and work with those who might be able to help, like someone from the local park and recreation department or school leaders.  

  • Alter physical spaces to encourage safe practices. Try using physical objects, like pool noodles or cones, or use paint or tape to create outlines of socially distant spaces for in-person activities. 

  • Make your at-home programming accessible. At-home activities should be easy to do in small spaces and shouldn’t require equipment. If you need equipment, consider options that are easy to come by, like brooms or socks. If you’re having live virtual events, think about offering a recorded option that youth can view later. Recorded options or activity handouts may make participation easier for families with limited or no internet.  

    • Think about how you can expand your geographic footprint by providing virtual options for youth that couldn't access your in-person programming. 
  • Keep working together as a team. Create team challenges with a group incentive so kids can still work together towards a common goal. 

    • You can even host a virtual awards day where you highlight participants’ contributions. 
  • Promote a unified message. It’s important to share a consistent message to help parents and youth stay safe and feel secure. Work with schools, other sports organizations, sports role models, academic institutions, and local government and health departments to relay a unified and consistent message. 

Youth sports may look different in communities across the United States, so it is important to check the latest guidance from your local health department and community or state leaders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) toolkit for youth sports also provides guidance and tools to help youth sports administrators make decisions, protect their teams and players, and communicate with their communities.  

This work was completed as part of implementation of the National Youth Sports Strategy, a Federal roadmap with actionable strategies for youth, adults who interact with youth, organizations, communities, and public policy makers to increase participation in youth sports and improve the youth sports experience. 

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