How to help your kids cope without organized sport

Connecting virtually with teammates and coaches help youth maintain the social benefits of sport, according to U of A sport psychology researcher

As children struggle to cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, their parents struggle alongside them.

Christine Legault, associate director with the University of Alberta’s Campus & Community Recreation, said her oldest child went from participating in sport four days a week to nothing. Two weeks in, her family is now struggling with the emotional and mental toll of this abrupt change to their schedule.

“Change management revolves around communication, and since the future timelines are so unknown, communication is lacking,” said Legault. “There are only so many times I can tell my children that I don't know when the activities will resume.”

According to U of A youth sport researcher Nick Holt, the wide range of benefits sport lends to childrens’ overall development are certainly taking a hit during this time. 

“It is quite possible that youth are having difficulties coping with the lack of structured learning, friendly competition and, most of all, social interaction with teammates that comes with participation in sport.”

Holt added that many parents are most likely feeling the same as Legault, and share in the emotional and mental challenges their children are facing. While no research has been conducted around how to provide for kids sport during a pandemic, Holt says there are still a lot of ways to support positive youth development through sport.

Holt suggested that parents start by encouraging their children to connect with teammates and friends virtually by teaching them how to use video conferencing apps such as FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Zoom. By doing so, youth can arrange regular “meet-ups” with their teammates where they can simply socialize or create a virtual group work-out session. He added that coaches can also use these tools as a way to stay in regular contact with their athletes and maintain the comradery that comes with being on a team.

While resources around coping without youth sport during a pandemic don’t yet exist, Holt suggests turning to social media for ideas. From participating in activities like virtual “pass” or creating skill-based challenges, he said there are a plethora of ideas for parents to use for their own youth athletes.

“Teams at all levels and age ranges from a variety of sports are already using social media platforms to connect with one another and maintain that social connection aspect,” he said. “From what we can tell strictly from observation, it’s going over very well for all involved.”

As it pertains to skill development, Holt suggested parents empower their kids to come up with their own routine, where they mix up both technical drills and physical activity, and encourage them to do their routines daily. He also suggested that parents work with coaches to keep teams connected by creating group workouts and providing suggestions for skill development drills and activities. He added that while many locations across the province and country are still in the final months of wintery weather, parents should provide a space for their kids to be more active indoors while they wait for warmer days to arrive.

Lastly, Holt suggested that parents simply check-in on their kids during this time and encourage them to stay connected with their teams.

“Many parents are also working from home and might find their own routines are difficult to manage,” he said. “By quickly checking-in with their kids, and reminding them of the various ways they can stay involved with sport can go a long way in helping both parents and children to cope with these uncertain times.”