Oct 13, 2021 - Sports
Ohio youth sports (slowly) rebounding
Illustration of a child making the time out sign with her hands.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Health concerns from area families are keeping some children from participating in youth sports, even as recreation departments return to their pre-pandemic league schedules.

Why it matters: The pause in youth sports during the pandemic may have lasting effects on participation rates here and across the country.

  • There may also be deeper implications on children's physical and mental health, research shows.

What's happening: Youth sports leagues have all but returned to normal for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department and elsewhere.

  • Axios reviewed 16 communities in Franklin County and found every one of them has some level of sports programming this fall, either through public rec departments or other locally-based leagues.

Yes, but: Participation still hasn't climbed to pre-COVID levels at the 27 Community Centers in Columbus, youth sports manager Char Barnes tells Axios.

  • After canceling indoor sports last year, registration is now open for the department's winter programs of youth basketball and gymnastics.

What they're saying: "Many of our families have been very interested in trying to come back," Barnes says. "That's the impression we got. I think a lot of folks are just still nervous about coming back."

  • "I think it's going to take us a couple years to get back to where we were."

State of play: There may be other reasons why youth participation in organized sports is down this year, Axios' Jeff Tracy reports.

  • Researchers at the Aspen Institute surveyed parents across the country and found that 28% of children who played sports before the pandemic have since lost interest in playing.
  • A separate study by the institute found 20% of children in central Ohio face financial barriers to participating in sports.
  • Such hardships impact Black youth (28%) more than their white peers (18%).

By the numbers: Sports participation can impact both mental and physical health.

  • Over 25% of parents reported their child's mental health suffered during the pandemic, but 49% of parents said this mental health improved when athletic restrictions were lifted.
  • CDC data shows childhood obesity rose from 19% to 22% during the pandemic.
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