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Jun 10, 2020 / Sports Medicine

Sidelined Due to COVID: Physical and Mental Health Effects on Youth Athletes

We’ve been talking a while about how early specialization has been shown to increase injury risk and burnout. Now, we have another reason to keep kids playing multiple sports a little longer. In a study of nearly 600 North Texas young athletes, half admitting they play only one sport, we found these athletes are the most vulnerable to removal from sport.

But, the news isn’t all bad. Some, mostly older, told us that they are sleeping more, and that’s definitely a trend that needed to improve in this population.
  • Parents should be intentional about helping athletes maintain the improved sleep habits that help to improve sleep duration and quality.
The study confirms our concerns that children and teens have dropped their activity levels from pre-pandemic times. Many athletes surveyed expressed that they have found new ways to train and we think that might be a good thing. In fact, varying training is another “injury prevention” principle we’ve been promoting as well.
  • Mixing up total training hours with individual training, virtual small group training session and traditional sport-specific sessions may be a good approach when sports return to the new normal.
A concerning finding was that one in ten athletes have lowered or even eliminated their goals and aspirations related to their sport. Some said that missing a season was detrimental to their chances to play in college or continue in the sport. Returning to pre-pandemic levels of competition may not be a reality for all children.
  • Ramping up training slowly and promoting sport sampling and lifelong sports like biking, walking and yoga will be important for the weeks and months ahead. Help your young athlete develop appropriate goals. SRC-Athlete-Survey-Infographic-01v4-(2).png
Henry B. Ellis, M.D., principal investigator of the study says, “Evaluating the ways in which young athletes have been uniquely affected by the drastic alteration of daily sport routines may increase understanding of the significant impact of sport participation on physical and mental well-being. The effects of mandated rest on current athlete culture and the importance of providing data to guide treatment efforts for mental health dysfunction may become more prevalent in the months following the implementation of social distancing mandates.” 

This is one of several studies by Scottish Rite for Children experts looking at the effects of the pandemic. Our sports medicine, movement science and psychology teams are busy reviewing the data, preparing manuscripts for medical journals and working together to identify next steps. Using statistical analysis to recognize and communicate meaningful trends in the data allow policy makers to use evidence to guide policy development, safety guidelines and new directions that will promote physical activity and mental health in our youth.

Learn more about our latest sports medicine research.

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