As young athletes step out of the pool and go back to school—presumably for the first time since March 2020—I can’t help but wonder what the first day of team practices will ultimately look like.
If you think about it, high school freshmen in March 2020 were underclassmen on the team. Some schools even have this grade level participate in junior varsity rather than varsity to give these younger high school athletes time to develop their skill set with some of their new peers after moving up from middle school.
Flash forward to August 2021 and those freshmen are now juniors. As usual, junior and senior athletes are expected to set the tone for freshman and sophomore classes. Because the juniors—especially in latter spring sports—were involved in virtual learning, some athletes will have not played a game in nearly 800 days when their sport resumes competition in the spring of 2022—a mind blowing statistic.
Because of this, surely by now some of the March 2020 underclassmen have dropped their respected sport.
A simple search will show you that over 70 percent of youth athletes will drop out of their respected spots before they even make it to high school, or shortly after entering high school and playing one season. When asked why they decided to drop out, kids mentioned the overall pressure to win and the “fun” being taken out of sports for a more competitive approach.
So, what happens when the competitive nature of sports returns mixed with high school athletes who have not played in nearly two years? For one, the athletes will not be as conditioned as normal. Coaches, parents, and players will need to realize that they will not be able to “pick up where they left off.”
If you recall, SportsEvents produced a free webinar in June discussing the effects of returning to sports after a pandemic and how to do it safely. One of the key takeaways, in addition to athletes needing extra recovery time, was implementing social time into each practice. Some team members have only communicated virtually throughout the entire pandemic, and the social aspect of life when it comes to face-to-face interaction was lost. Therefore, team members may value social interaction over competition this season.
For benefit, I am inserting the link to the webinar here where you can watch for free. The 30-minute discussion features expert insights on returning to sports and is something we should keep in mind throughout the duration of the season.
Coaches making sports less competitive and cutting back on conditioning in favor of more social interaction is what inevitably will make or break athletics this year.
Even though many would agree that not everyone deserves a trophy, hopefully teams can find middle ground in awarding everyone and lessening the ultra-competitive spirit of team sports to make the return from COVID-19 the best it can be physically and mentally.