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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: 318763

Reported Deaths: 3652
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin673361116
Ramsey28256505
Anoka22583228
Dakota22414190
Washington14207116
Stearns13976117
St. Louis8991112
Scott859755
Wright795543
Olmsted681134
Sherburne601541
Clay508957
Carver486215
Kandiyohi420522
Rice419237
Blue Earth418016
Crow Wing364034
Otter Tail321723
Chisago315612
Nobles309930
Benton305751
Winona284830
Douglas266837
Mower265823
Polk261224
Morrison233829
Lyon223011
Beltrami219218
McLeod217914
Becker209416
Goodhue208428
Steele19917
Isanti194217
Itasca193923
Carlton191316
Todd182514
Nicollet164026
Mille Lacs157031
Freeborn15546
Le Sueur148811
Cass146010
Brown145715
Waseca139811
Pine13958
Meeker13289
Roseau12194
Martin117420
Hubbard115725
Wabasha10781
Redwood97919
Chippewa9147
Cottonwood8964
Renville89529
Dodge8700
Watonwan8634
Wadena8156
Sibley8004
Rock7889
Aitkin77830
Pipestone74118
Fillmore7240
Houston7134
Yellow Medicine66512
Pennington6638
Kanabec62713
Swift5998
Murray5953
Faribault5732
Pope5531
Clearwater5268
Stevens5243
Marshall5059
Jackson4961
Lake4326
Koochiching3996
Wilkin3925
Lac qui Parle3863
Unassigned38559
Lincoln3651
Norman3537
Big Stone3242
Mahnomen3044
Grant2806
Kittson2298
Red Lake2163
Traverse1491
Lake of the Woods1011
Cook770

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 229327

Reported Deaths: 2395
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33896336
Linn14340166
Scott1132587
Black Hawk10968137
Woodbury10428129
Johnson964137
Dubuque927491
Story684522
Pottawattamie644070
Dallas641757
Sioux372725
Webster363936
Cerro Gordo359046
Marshall351246
Clinton333844
Buena Vista307314
Muscatine293469
Des Moines291620
Warren283214
Plymouth277142
Wapello257372
Jones233615
Jasper224344
Marion206821
Lee205017
Carroll199922
Bremer196712
Henry18417
Crawford176916
Benton171821
Tama154940
Jackson146513
Washington146215
Delaware144921
Dickinson140311
Boone138311
Mahaska127927
Wright12706
Clay11924
Buchanan118510
Hardin116510
Page11524
Hamilton11429
Clayton11238
Cedar109313
Harrison108630
Kossuth10847
Calhoun10757
Mills10647
Floyd106216
Fayette105610
Lyon10538
Butler10266
Poweshiek99713
Winneshiek98413
Iowa97612
Winnebago93124
Cherokee9014
Hancock8737
Sac8738
Grundy87111
Louisa86818
Chickasaw8664
Allamakee82811
Cass81823
Mitchell8035
Appanoose79912
Humboldt7855
Union7796
Shelby77311
Emmet76824
Guthrie76315
Franklin74321
Jefferson7252
Unassigned6950
Madison6924
Palo Alto6574
Keokuk6157
Pocahontas5644
Howard5619
Osceola5341
Greene5310
Ida50013
Clarke4904
Davis4739
Montgomery47011
Taylor4673
Monroe44712
Adair4418
Monona4402
Worth3690
Fremont3663
Van Buren3615
Lucas3296
Decatur3200
Wayne3027
Audubon3002
Ringgold2202
Adams1712
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