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The Future of Youth Sports
By Dr. Ned Ketyer

Author and founder of Changing the Game Project, John O’Sullivan, reimagines youth sports in a post-COVID-19 world. He says a major rethink is in order, especially for kids 12 years old and under. The pandemic has created hardship for everyone, especially children who may be super-eager to return to their sports programs. O’Sullivan expects these thoughts will be running through parent’s minds the closer we get to the “new normal”:

  • We just had family dinners night after night for the first time in years. I want my kids to go back to playing sports, but do we really want to be running around with our heads cut off 7 nights a week?
  • My child is feeling healthy and well rested for the first time in years because he/she had some time off. Perhaps we should cut back a bit on the number of sports practices and training load.
  • My child is enjoying the time-off and pursuing other passions. He/she is also getting better practicing on his/her own for the first time, or playing unorganized sports with siblings..
  • This has been a tough hit financially for our family. Perhaps there is a better, less expensive local sports option.
  • We already live in an area with millions of people, why do we need to travel by bus and plane to get games when we can get plenty of games close by?
  • The virus has settled down in our area, but not in other places. I am not sending my child to play games against teams where the virus is not under control.

O’Sullivan believes that “every youth sports organization that wants to thrive in a post-pandemic world must put character and personal development at the forefront of their mission.” That responsibility, he says, is on coaches who volunteer their time to teach skills and develop young athletes. They will need to be educated and their coaching skills developed first:

  • (W)e must train every single coach not simply on the Xs and Os, but on connecting with kids, winning the relationship game, and understanding the social, emotional and cognitive development of the children they are coaching.

Involving parents more is also mandatory:

  • Our parents can be our biggest assets, so connect with them, teach them how they can help their children and support them on and off the field.

Maybe when activities are allowed to commence again, families will want a little more balance in their lives:

  • (Families) have just spent a few months having free time, game night, and family dinners, and watched their family connections grow. I am not saying that they won’t want any sports, but will they want a full sports takeover of their lives again? Full time? I am not so sure.

It should be clear to practically everyone that “back to normal” is not the direction we are currently headed. Our kids need to stay active and fit, and physically interact with their peers. While sports are an effective and fun avenue for athletic development, it is character development that coaches and parents would be wise to emphasize in a post-pandemic world.

Nick Jacobs is a partner with SMR, LLC, a senior leadership healthcare consulting firm. He is a founder of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, former board member and officer of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and served on the Executive Committee of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium. A former hospital CEO and founder of two genetic research institutes, Jacobs maintains a website, Healinghospitals.com.



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