The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Youth sports take a punch from the pandemic

A new “State of Play” report finds kids aren’t playing and are losing interest.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic kids are spending on average 6½ fewer hours a week on sports and physical activities, according to a new Aspen Institute State of Play report. Some say they have lost interest. Those involved in youth sports want to figure out how to encourage participation once the pandemic ends. (iStock)

The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things, including kids’ sports.

Recently the Aspen Institute, an organization that studies sports as well as other important subjects, issued its State of Play 2020 report. One part of the report examined the effects of the pandemic on kids’ sports and how kids play.

Researchers at the Aspen Institute and two universities (Utah State and North Carolina State) asked more than 1,000 parents of youth sports participants (ages 6 to 18) from across the country what their kids were doing during the pandemic. Interesting things the study found out include:

●Even though kids are going back to playing organized sports, kids were only half as physically active in September as they were before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March by the World Health Organization.

●On average, kids spent about 6 1/hours a week less on playing sports during the pandemic than before.

●The study looked at 21 sports and physical activities, including flag football, field hockey, skateboarding and swimming. The number of hours kids spent playing each of those sports fell from March to September.

●However, that is beginning to change. Parents reported kids playing more in 10 of the sports since June. For example, kids were spending 29 percent more time playing baseball in September than in June.

●One activity that dropped less than others during the pandemic was bike-riding. In fact, bicycling went from being kids’ 16th favorite activity before the pandemic to the third-favorite during the pandemic.

●Another sign that bike-riding is getting more popular is that sales of regular bikes and mountain bikes are way up from last year.

●Experts say the popularity of bike-riding may be part of a move — a small move — toward individual sports and more unstructured play during the pandemic.

●One big problem the study uncovered is that 29 percent of kids say they are no longer interested in playing sports. These aren’t kids who sat on the couch all day: They are kids who used to play sports before the pandemic. That’s higher than the 18 percent who said they didn’t want to go back to sports at the beginning of the pandemic.

So the bad news is that kids are playing less, and some kids are thinking of staying on the sidelines.

The good news is that people at the Aspen Institute and other places are working on solutions. They suggest youth sports should recognize the right of every kid to play, not just the so-called “stars.” And everyone should support local community sports organizations for kids instead of expensive travel leagues.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things. Maybe it will change kids’ sports for the better.

Read more Score columns:

What makes sports fun? It isn’t winning, according to this study.

Kids quit sports when the fun goes away

Playing one sport year round isn’t smart, even for kids who want to go pro