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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 9:21 PM
Updated: Jun 17, 2020 9:21 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1319265

Reported Deaths: 21265
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1480641537
Cuyahoga1311202313
Hamilton948871307
Montgomery647451122
Summit548531041
Lucas49502853
Butler45993649
Stark39954963
Lorain30438525
Warren29170326
Mahoning25988629
Clermont24726278
Lake24088411
Delaware21722140
Licking19822239
Fairfield19780218
Greene19671266
Medina19208285
Trumbull19195506
Clark17188321
Portage15585224
Richland15540228
Wood15187208
Allen13654254
Miami13283244
Muskingum11821148
Wayne11448234
Columbiana11100239
Tuscarawas10388264
Marion10273144
Pickaway10162128
Scioto9766124
Erie9479170
Ross8979172
Lawrence8225116
Hancock8105140
Ashtabula8083184
Geauga7976155
Belmont7791183
Jefferson7093168
Huron7087125
Union703549
Washington6823116
Athens666163
Sandusky6608132
Darke6394135
Knox6308120
Seneca6113135
Auglaize569888
Ashland5631110
Shelby555799
Mercer545188
Brown533067
Defiance5278100
Madison527368
Crawford5148113
Highland514876
Fulton508781
Clinton505379
Logan494582
Preble4788110
Putnam4733106
Guernsey439057
Williams437281
Champaign426463
Ottawa425783
Perry414051
Jackson402259
Pike367140
Morrow359149
Fayette353951
Coshocton345064
Hardin341868
Adams338864
Gallia329254
Holmes3148107
Henry312668
Van Wert299269
Hocking280467
Wyandot271858
Carroll250451
Paulding231742
Meigs197842
Monroe178649
Noble160340
Morgan153528
Harrison145740
Vinton130217
Unassigned05
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Angola
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Huntington
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Decatur
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Van Wert
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An area of high pressure will pave the way to plenty of sunshine as we round out the work week.
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