This summer I had the vantage point to witness both the devastating effects of, and the creative opportunities inspired by, the coronavirus pandemic as it relates to youth sports in Westchester County.
I was shown a tale of two cities.
On one hand, children from the more affluent communities played in the roomy backyards of their homes with hired counselors to facilitate play activities within local cohorts of friends. Private day camps, operating under strict guidelines, opened their facilities to local campers on a small scale. Parks and public spaces were active with young athletes sharpening their skills in play with friends, family members and paid trainers.
In nearby towns, children with fewer resources faced shuttered recreation centers, closed gymnasiums, and restricted public facilities. Working parents did not have the time to bring their children to open spaces. In many cases, outdoor basketball courts had rims removed as recreation departments did not have the resources to supervise Covid guidelines in public play spaces.
In effect, sports and play were basically shut down.
As we limp forward from this pandemic, we must address the grim situation facing our communities’ neediest athletes. The New York Times recently quoted an Aspen Institute study on how youth sports has been impacted by Covid. Overall, children between the ages of 6-18 have witnessed a 50% drop in sports participation.
We have had conversations about the economic equity gap which has been revealed. This problem is raw and systemic, with solutions far more complicated than what is in our power to control locally.
However, the sports equity issue is as simple to address as the game itself. All we need is a ball, safe space, and compassionate coaches and participants. Play is nothing more than a combination of active movement coupled with the connection of peers and friends.
The word competition originates from the Latin word competre, which means to strive together in search of excellence. We have the opportunity to work together, sharing our resources, sharing ourselves to bring physical wellness and health back to ravaged communities.
Many pundits foresee a continuing downward spiral furthering the equity gap. Yet, I am hopeful. Remedies are at hand. Recognition, compassion, and action can and will address and reverse this decline.
Over the past several weeks we have been working with our partners at the White Plains Youth Bureau and Recreation Department, the Mt. Vernon Boys and Girls Club, and the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester. Together we are mapping out safe activities, taking advantage of the opening of parks and facilities. Our coaches and volunteers are crossing city lines to provide opportunities to create the lasting connections that sports and play provides. We come from various backgrounds. However, we are all on the same team.
Head Coach, Backyard Sports Cares