COVID-19 and Youth Sports: Keeping Young Athletes on Track With Physical Therapy
Youth Sports and the Impact of COVID-19
With the emergence of the COVID-19 virus in the early months of 2020, the world experienced many changes. Restaurants, schools, and workplaces closed. Entire sports seasons were canceled or postponed. Even major events like the Summer Olympics and festivals and fairs were impacted. While many adults are able to adapt to these changes easily, another group isn’t as well equipped: children.
Many school districts took immediate action and closed their doors to students and teachers to stop the spread of the virus. These also put a halt to another very important aspect of adolescent education – youth sports.
Switching to remote learning made it possible for teachers and students to continue working toward their goals, but made it difficult for children to participate in athletics. The first few months were a learning curve for many, and they led into typical summer “off” months. However, with the virus still present, parents – and kids – are still adapting.
For many, summer 2020 didn’t provide the opportunity for children to participate in organized youth sports.
Team sports like baseball, basketball, and football are ways to connect with friends, grow as people, and learn the rules of sportsmanship. Unfortunately, COVID-19 safety guidelines made significant modifications to these sports, limiting both practices and games.
How do you find ways to keep young athletes engaged and at the top of their game?
Youth sports require patience, dedication, and focus from participants. Offering valuable lessons in teamwork, accountability, and discipline, there isn’t one true substitute for youth sports. For this reason, parents are scrambling to find alternatives.
But what’s the best option? That differs for each athlete and family. The important thing is to establish a routine. Some families may incorporate exercise at home and around the neighborhood. Others may need help from a professional to establish a routine with sport-specific strength and conditioning exercises. That’s where a physical therapist may help. For many, a combination of all of the resources available may be best.
Read on to learn about the options for keeping youth athletes active and find the choices that work best for your family.
Even without these athletic opportunities, finding ways to stay active is imperative for children and their parents.
Staying Active During Time Off
This short break helps promote recovery time and decreases the likelihood for overuse injuries. It also gives athletes a chance to pursue other interests, if they want. But now, some programs are postponing their fall sports until the spring, which may mean a full year “off.”
If athletes aren’t staying active and practicing during this time, the return to prior skill levels and capabilities decreases by the day.
Even though every situation is different for parents and their children, exercise is essential for overall health and well-being. This doesn’t mean playing a sport every day or spending all of your free time working out or practicing. Instead, families choosing alternatives to traditional sports is now common – and it should be!
Continue reading to discover ways for your young athletes to stay fit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Youth Exercise Options Based on Risk Level
In order to determine what types of activities and exercises are best for you and your young athletes, consider the overall risk.
Low Risk Exercise Options for Young Athletes
- Home exercises like playing in the yard with immediate family members (pool, jump rope, tag, jumping jacks, stretches)
- Following along with a YouTube or DVD workout routine
- Practicing your sport of choice with immediate family members (throwing and catching a ball, kicking, sprinting, practicing a golf swing)
- Walking, biking or roller skating/blading through the neighborhood
Moderate Risk Exercise Options for Young Athletes
- Socially distanced participation in sports with neighbors
- Exercise in a public park
- Walking, running or biking on a trail or path where others are doing the same
- Attending in-person training or practice sessions while maintaining social distance
- Non-contact team or individual sports
High Risk Exercise Options for Young Athletes
- Contact sports (football, basketball, hockey, wrestling)
- Exercising in a gym or school facility
- Public pools
The current number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in an area may alter the risk level, but this is a general guideline.
As we all learn more about the virus and transmission rates, you can modify the types of activities you participate in. This is also a great opportunity to work with your children and set guidelines for their activity levels and exercise options.
At this time, it’s most important to be flexible.
COVID-19 and Youth Sports – Routine is Key
Even in a young athlete’s “off-season,” it’s important to stay in shape. Yes, this pandemic has changed things. Yes, habits have likely slipped. Routines are off, but it doesn’t have to stay this way.
The longer athletes go without routine, the more difficult it is to get back into that routine later. Not only do routines keep youth sports athletes focused, they keep their bodies in shape and ready.
The pandemic will end.
Youth sports leagues will begin again.
You – and your children – simply need to stay prepared.
To stay in shape, it’s important to get as much exercise as possible in the safest ways possible. Even practicing for team sports is possible at home, but it’s often easier with help. Contacting coaches and other athletes is a good place to start. But what if you need more than a few general pointers?
Reach out to someone with experience in safe and effective exercise recommendations.
Can a Physical Therapist Help Keep Youth Sports Athletes in Shape?
The answer to this question is an overwhelming yes.
Most people only consider physical therapy when they need help recovering from an injury or illness, but it is useful in many other situations.
Physical therapy treatment is based in medical science, meaning that all approved activities are healthy. A physical therapist doesn’t expect your young athlete to overdo it. They don’t want them to overwork themselves, potentially leading to injury or difficulty completing exercises. In fact, the main focus of physical therapy for youth sports athletes is injury prevention.
When people seek physical therapy for recovery, they focus on rebuilding strength and gaining mobility. As a preventive measure, physical therapy for youth athletes focuses on keeping the body ready on a day-to-day basis. This is more than simple exercise; it’s preparation for the future.
Rather than simply exercising or practicing “when they feel like it” or “when sports are allowed again,” a physical therapy program sets a routine.
Benefits of Physical Therapy For Youth Sports Athletes
To elaborate, physical therapists suggest exercises based on individual needs. For young athletes, these needs are much different than for someone recovering. Examples of these benefits include:
- A physical therapist helps athletes take advantage of “downtime.” This time is an opportunity for athletes to gain strength and do it the right way.
- Unsupervised, athletes may be doing the same, repetitive exercises from home. This often contributes to those overuse injuries. A physical therapist will provide new ideas to switch up the routine and reduce those overuse injuries.
- Athletes can use physical therapy to improve balance & range of motion. Along with this, guided exercise mimics coaching and increases the focus on specific bodily areas and use.
As discussed above, athletes need routine.
A few weekly physical therapy sessions doesn’t seem like much to begin with, but it gives young athletes the same type of interaction they get from coaches – and teammates. Physical therapists explain rules and expectations. They monitor activities and movement. They provide advice.
Physical Therapy for Youth Athletes Can Take Place Virtually
Seeing a physical therapist doesn’t mean you have to go into the clinic. Many therapists are offering telehealth sessions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. These sessions make it possible for athletes and therapists to interact safely – but still completely. Virtually connecting is easy, smart and keeps options flexible.
Not only can you do each session from home or your backyard, therapists will recommend exercises based on the space and equipment you have readily available. In addition, since the sessions are virtual, modifications are always possible. What does this mean? Depending on the sport your athlete plays, a physical therapist may recommend holding one session in a larger open space where running or throwing is possible, and having the next one indoors, using weights or stretching as a basis.
While physical therapy sessions should encourage a routine of sorts, athletes won’t always do the exact same series of exercises each time.
This is a definite benefit for parents and young athletes, too. By keeping the exercises and expectations simple, it encourages participation. When youth sports athletes and their families utilize telehealth, everyone wins.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy In Place of Active Participation in Youth Sports
Physical therapy sessions can’t (and won’t) replace the feeling athletes get when they take the field with their teammates. They don’t replace the way playing a sport allows youth athletes to form friendships and rivalries, or participate in healthy competition.
But they do give them a chance to stay in shape, learn about themselves, and find the best ways to cope with the changes in today’s world.
Some additional benefits of using physical therapy to stay on track include:
- Provides an opportunity to learn from a professional. Many physical therapists were (or are) athletes themselves. Finding one that is familiar with your athlete’s sport helps narrow the focus.
- Sessions are held in-office or virtually. This is ideal for athletes and their parents for many reasons. First, virtual sessions keep people safe at home without sacrificing the quality of care. Physical therapists can assess function and capabilities through the screen, then provide advice for future exercise. In-office sessions put youth sports athletes in direct contact with other athletes and get them moving in a way that doesn’t cause injury.
- The risks associated with physical therapy are minimal. Though some risk does exist when attending in-person sessions, it’s lower than practicing or playing with a whole team. Physical therapy sessions are meant to be one-on-one, which means your athlete gets the therapist’s full attention.
- With each session, strength, mobility, and ability increase. This is no different than physical therapy for injury treatment. However, youth athletes often start at a higher level of ability than a traditional physical therapy patient.
- By staying prepared, injuries are less likely to occur. An athlete who was idle during their downtime is more likely to experience an injury when they start playing again. Don’t let this happen.
Don’t Wait – Find a Physical Therapist For Your Youth Sports Athlete Today!
Many locations are loosening their COVID-19 restrictions, but that doesn’t mean youth sports are back. Schools are sticking to remote learning, and many fall sports are canceled or postponed until spring. For the areas where these sports are still happening, practices and preparation look much different than usual.
Using physical therapy sessions to keep young athletes active and engaged is a safe, effective, and smart alternative to letting them practice and play on their own.
To find the right physical therapist in a clinic near you, use the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the mobile app. Many clinics and networks use the BetterTelehealth platform, which gives you the opportunity for virtual sessions. It’s understandable that some parents don’t want to risk their children going into a medical office for an elective appointment – but that doesn’t mean physical therapy is off the table.
There are plenty of ways for your youth sports athletes to stay fit and healthy. COVID-19 might have closed schools and gyms and derailed youth sports leagues. However, it can’t stop hard work, dedication, and continued exercise