Disrupting Normal in the Return to Youth Sports & Activities
Co-authored by Kristen Rupprecht – Noble One and Aaron Locks- National Academy of Athletics
The excitement of getting youth back on the court or field playing sports and participating in fun activities is presenting new challenges that camps, program providers, coaches, and parents can prepare for. What could happen if we tossed aside our quest for getting back to “normal” and focused our efforts on navigating the changes in youth sports and activities with preparation and an open mind?
The societal and personal push to get things back to normal could be what is preventing us from moving forward with ease. The fact that we are moving forward at all is something we can all be grateful for while putting what we knew as “normal” behind us and forgetting about trying to predict a future that is not here. We only have the present moment to create new and positive experiences and memories for our kids as they transition back into sports and fitness activities.
Everyone Has Changed
Kids are still kids, but it is fair to say that they are forever changed by the past year’s events. In some cases, kids have gone over a year without being in outdoor or structured physical activities. They are not used to waiting in line, being told to stand still, or taking extra health and safety precautions before play. They have become accustomed to sitting in front of screens in controlled environments for long periods of time. The lack of movement and the mind-body connection that sports and activities provide can bring about a challenging transition returning to sports programs.
Everyone has changed. The problem is not the change itself; it is how we react to it. We are not taught how to navigate physical, social, or emotional change as a natural occurrence. Change can certainly bring about chaos or challenges but if we learn how to respond instead of reacting, this can be a beautiful learning and teaching environment. By giving youth the right tools and strategies, we can present them with opportunities for growth. Isn’t that what “growing up”? Coming together in our efforts as youth leaders we can guide the kids through any obstacles with confidence and grace.
Some kids may struggle with a variety of things like attention span, maintaining personal space, following directions, or physical stamina. Others may be struggling more socially and emotionally after being isolated for an extended period of time. One suggestion to help with this challenge is to start with an open discussion about the intention for the program and the goals they hope to address throughout. Allow plenty of time for kids to ask questions and ask for feedback. Next, demonstration of the activities will help them visualize success and eradicate any fear of engagement. Smaller pieces of information or activity may be easier for kids to digest as they return to play.
The kids might be more tired than usual, may get frustrated easier, or respond differently than they did in previous programs. Allow the program staff to work with the kids to increase stamina and rebalance both their physical and mental energy. Open communication and understanding between parents and program staff will help everyone adjust. Empathize with staff members that have also not been working face-to-face in a while. We need that village now more than ever to raise our kids and create a new paradigm in youth fitness and athletic programming. This includes adding social and emotional awareness and education to youth sports and activities. The National Academy of Athletics and Noble One has formed a partnership based on this mutual goal.
How Important is Communication?
Learning how to communicate efficiently and effectively is a lifelong skill to develop. Text and email are appropriate for some types of communication, but nothing replaces interpersonal and direct communication. Picking up the phone to make a call or scheduling a brief in-person meeting is the best solution when you have questions, need clarity, or can help in transitioning the kids back to sports and activities.
Any challenges that arise for kids, parents, or staff can be addressed and kept from escalating with open channels of communication. Parents should allow their kids to handle situations with guidance where appropriate which empowers their confidence and helps them establish their own boundaries. Lead with positive support and solutions in mind rather than undermining the authority of the staff at the program.
Ask the kids open-ended questions about how they are feeling physically and mentally and allow them to express themselves without judgment.
What About Staff?
Changes in staffing were inevitable as everyone’s lives have shifted personally and collectively. Many organizations that run programs for kids have found new challenges with staffing and are creating new systems and structures to address this. It is important to consider onboarding and training staff as an important step before kids participate in any program. We also recommended a parent/staff communication system established at the beginning of the program. At the National Academy of Athletics, their coaches go through an in-depth hiring process to become NAofA Certified. starting with a full background check. Once cleared they proceed with Concussion Protocol, Mandate Reporter, Sexual harassment & bullying, and child safety training. Once they complete their online training they attend a 2-hour in-person training session lead by Aaron himself.
Kristen Rupprecht is a Partner at Noble One
More about Kristen HERE