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Returning to Youth Sports After the Coronavirus Crisis

Posted on Apr 20, 2020

With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, all youth, high school, college and professional sports seasons have been stopped waiting on government organizations to give permission to return to regular activities. We know that schools have gone to online for academics. Where does that leave youth athletes who are in the middle of sports seasons? On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Patrick Mularoni, M.D., the medical director of the Pediatric Sports Medicine program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, provides parents and students with some tips about getting back into the sports routine.

The crisis is affecting all parts of life from the way we do business to the way children are learning. This crisis has brought up unique situations for youth athletes, especially those who are involved in spring sports. Most organizations are in a wait-and-see stage to determine when and how they can restart their seasons. The professional sports leagues are looking at unique ways to restart their seasons, but this will involve changing the structure of the season and many are coming up upon a time of year where playoffs should be going on.

Some of the ideas involve potentially having all athletes come to one location, and there have been conversations of having seasons resume without spectators but available through television. The NCAA has cancelled all spring sports and has granted an extra year of eligibility to its athletes who missed their season.

The area that is still up in the air is high school and youth sports, which may attempt to complete their seasons and could even extend spring seasons into the summer. The hardest part for athletes is that we are in a waiting period and for the children affected that has created a lot of uncertainty.

There is a lot of uncertainty for all of us. How is that affecting youth athletes?

The first question has to be what am I training for and how hard should I be training? Many athletes who play multiple sports are struggling with the idea of whether they should be training for their spring sport, a summer sport or potentially even a fall sport.

This also begs the question of how to train in this environment. There are some athletes like swimmers who can’t access pools, gymnasts who can’t be in the gym and athletes who play certain positions like pitchers in baseball who haven’t been able to get on the mound. For them, the training is totally different and could lead to athletes who are deconditioned and being rushed back into a season that they are not prepared for.

Should athletes be training right now?

Absolutely. One of the things that we need to do right now is work to make our children’s lives as normal as possible while following guidelines of social distancing. That may require family members serving the role of teammates and may involve a significant amount of cross training for athletes who can’t play their sport, but we definitely need to keep our children active and motivated.

In the medical literature we have studies that show that injured athletes suffer from increased rates of depression and anxiety when they are unable to play their sport. Now we know that this is a much different situation but we can expect similar responses in athletes who are dealing with the lack of training and the uncertainty that the COVID-19 crisis has created.

So for our athletes and parents, what are some tips that you can give?

  • Talk about what is going on and come up with a plan to keep your athlete conditioned and motivated.
  • Think outside the box. Use what is around you. Kick or throw a ball against a wall. If you can’t play your sport, choose other sports activities that may make you better at a sport that you normally play.
  • Come together as a family and train together. Find a workout on the internet or on demand on your TV. Make training a family activity.
  • Don’t be afraid to play with a parent or sibling. Your little brother might not throw or kick the best pass but that may make you increase your skills in catching, fielding or trapping the ball. 

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts. Visit  HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories  each Monday for the latest report.  You also can explore  more advice  from Patrick Mularoni, M.D.  

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