Coaches fear youth sports may not get through coronavirus shutdowns

CNN's Bianna Golodryga shares how coaches and facilities across the nation are working to bring youth sports from team Zoom chats back to the fields and courts.

Posted: Jun 17, 2020 8:21 PM
Updated: Jun 17, 2020 8:21 PM

Youth sports are coming off the sidelines as states begin to reopen.

Baseball and softball have resumed in Iowa, and youth football leagues in Indiana returned for on field practices last Sunday. In hard-hit New Jersey, non-contact outdoor organized activities can begin next Monday. In Texas and Florida, two of the states that were among the first to reopen after closing for the coronavirus pandemic, all youth sports have been given the green light.

But while there are green shoots, this is a far cry from what the industry -- worth $19.2 billion, according to WinterGreen Research -- looked like before coronavirus hit. That has many sports directors worried.

New York City's Downtown United Soccer Club has a newly resurfaced pitch at Pier 40 at Hudson River Park, a mile north of the Freedom Tower that's visible from the field.

"We always thought our biggest nightmare scenario was that this field would be flooded," said club executive director Kevin McCarthy. "And now that it's done and beautiful, the irony is, we can't play on it."

Practice for the last three months has consisted of biweekly Zoom sessions for the club's 50 coaches and more than 5,000 players. Kids have attempted to do everything from lacrosse, gymnastics, football and even soccer virtually. But it's not worked for some players.

"Sometimes they won't move in front of the camera because that's not their environment," coach Danny Rodriguez said of the children at his sessions. "They want to be with the kids, they want to be with the teammates, they want to score goals, they want to run around."

He's worried about the impact on tweens and teens, whose bodies are changing as they enter puberty. "This time was important for them, we were getting into shape, we were getting habits and we help them to eat properly, get sleep, sleep properly. Now they are away, we cannot see what's going on with them."

That may soon begin to change, as the US Soccer Federation recently released its recommendations for a phased reopening, focused on individual and small group training.

Rodriguez is looking forward to getting his players back onto the field but, for this year at least, one of the biggest parts of their season, travel tournaments, is canceled because of league guidelines.

It's been the same for Bob Westbrook, the founder and board chair, of the A5 Volleyball Club north of Atlanta, whose 1,000 registered players often train abroad.

"We live in a technological age, so we've bought a lot of those kinds of tools and we have a very robust social media platform and presence," he said. "We had workouts posted for them every day."

But Westbrook acknowledges that technology can't replace team building and bonding.

"For athletes, people that play ... any game, it's like a black hole, void in your life that you can't find an outlet for. Simply being at home and beating the ball around your back is not the same."

McCarthy agrees. "You see that on the field, you have the opportunity to not only grow as a soccer player, but to grow as a young man or young woman as you're competing," he said. "You can't replace that by being in your apartment or being in your house and not having interaction and engagement with your teammates, not having the challenges of facing opponents."

Just three months into Covid-19 shutdowns, sports clubs nationwide have seen billions lost from canceled courses, clinics and camps. Hundreds of organizations have joined a PLAY Sports Coalition asking Congress for bailout help.

Westbrook believes his club will survive the pandemic, but others will not.

"A lot of clubs don't have any sort of infrastructure and we're getting ready to pass out, you know, several hundred thousand dollars in refunds. We think we're gonna make it, but there will be a lot of clubs that don't and that's a shame because they need their sport," he said.

McCarthy says his club had to cancel its summer camp program that's one of its financial engines, and he's worried about registrations for next year. "I'm concerned that we will not have enough players to continue to employ all our coaches if this lasts longer and longer."

Team sport participation for 6-12 year-olds dropped from 45% in 2008 to 38% in 2018 after the financial crisis and remains at about that level, according to the Aspen Institute.

As children do return to the playing field, high fives and handshakes won't be there but regular temperature checks will be. Equipment will be cleaned more often, and locker rooms may need to be remodeled. Some Little League baseball fields will likely have Xs painted 6 feet apart in the gravel and each player will be issued their own bat and helmet. Dugouts may be closed for the season.

McCarthy knows the new soccer practices will look different, but they cannot come soon enough for him.

"When I walk here and see hundreds of players training together again, I think I might get down on my knees and be thankful."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 480091

Reported Deaths: 6502
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin995591576
Ramsey42700795
Dakota35723383
Anoka32968383
Washington21824253
Stearns18677200
St. Louis14644262
Scott13104104
Wright12400114
Olmsted1167988
Sherburne864873
Carver755340
Clay682284
Rice664190
Blue Earth585535
Kandiyohi576374
Crow Wing514280
Chisago493344
Otter Tail478770
Benton441090
Winona413548
Mower399231
Douglas390168
Nobles385147
Goodhue382468
Polk340762
McLeod336149
Beltrami334449
Morrison321446
Lyon311343
Itasca308245
Becker306841
Isanti303052
Carlton298344
Steele297211
Pine280316
Freeborn275923
Nicollet251241
Todd243830
Brown240037
Le Sueur230120
Mille Lacs225447
Cass217224
Waseca206317
Meeker205534
Martin186628
Wabasha18503
Roseau177617
Hubbard159740
Houston156214
Dodge15114
Renville146840
Redwood146327
Fillmore13638
Chippewa135735
Cottonwood133420
Wadena128120
Pennington125716
Faribault121216
Aitkin117633
Sibley116110
Rock115313
Watonwan11478
Kanabec106619
Pipestone100724
Yellow Medicine97517
Murray9408
Jackson92310
Swift87118
Pope7875
Marshall76615
Stevens7378
Lake72517
Clearwater71414
Lac qui Parle67916
Wilkin66410
Koochiching61711
Big Stone5093
Lincoln5022
Grant4848
Norman4648
Mahnomen4367
Unassigned43568
Kittson40421
Red Lake3534
Traverse3015
Lake of the Woods2131
Cook1190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 358981

Reported Deaths: 5342
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57492544
Linn20508311
Scott18171204
Black Hawk16156286
Woodbury14835211
Johnson1371072
Dubuque13438192
Dallas1120090
Pottawattamie10678140
Story1011545
Warren549170
Clinton538983
Cerro Gordo530580
Webster514686
Marshall493372
Sioux490468
Buena Vista469436
Des Moines454059
Muscatine445989
Wapello4247107
Jasper404865
Plymouth392277
Lee372051
Marion355967
Jones293254
Henry292635
Carroll284448
Bremer276154
Crawford271235
Boone257530
Washington253344
Benton249254
Mahaska222745
Jackson219638
Dickinson215938
Tama211464
Kossuth206754
Clay192725
Hamilton191041
Delaware188739
Winneshiek186626
Fayette183832
Buchanan183128
Page181319
Hardin179538
Wright179031
Harrison178369
Cedar174722
Clayton167853
Butler165431
Floyd161939
Mills161820
Poweshiek153229
Cherokee153135
Madison152817
Hancock146429
Lyon145341
Iowa143723
Allamakee143444
Appanoose138147
Grundy138030
Jefferson137232
Winnebago136830
Calhoun133010
Cass132248
Mitchell129840
Louisa127741
Union125831
Chickasaw124513
Sac123618
Emmet120840
Shelby119433
Franklin118119
Humboldt116724
Guthrie116128
Palo Alto104021
Montgomery103636
Howard102221
Clarke99020
Keokuk97329
Unassigned9270
Monroe92128
Adair91126
Ida90732
Pocahontas85119
Davis82123
Monona81325
Greene76610
Lucas72721
Osceola69714
Worth6876
Taylor66212
Fremont5819
Decatur5709
Van Buren55918
Ringgold51516
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