COVID-19: Return to Youth Sports
Preparing Sports Venues and Events for the Return of Youth Sports
Keywords:COVID-19, coronavirus, Kano Model, youth sports, sports facilities
COVID-19 has impacted all areas of life, and youth sports is no exception. States and counties are publishing their own unique guidelines for permitting youth sports to return over designated phases, creating a patchwork of guidelines and dates for returning to practice and games. Governing bodies, sports facilities, and event operators are creating modifications and adaptations for participants and spectators to ensure a safe environment. The Sports Innovation Institute at IUPUI, a partnership between Indiana and Purdue universities in Indianapolis, and Grand Park Sports Campus (Westfield, Ind.) collaborated to better understand how COVID-related adaptations are perceived by parents, athletes, coaches, officials, and administrators. The results provide youth sports facilities and event operators with data on how specific adaptions are received by these stakeholders who are looking to return to youth sports in a timely, but safe manner.
Twelve adaptations were identified from a review of documents prepared by states, governing bodies, trade associations, media reports, and feedback from industry and academic experts. The survey questions were designed using the Kano Model (pronounced “kah-no”), which was selected due to its ability to determine how people feel about proposed adaptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each adaption comprised three questions that assessed the respondents’ feelings toward the adaptation (functional question), their feelings if the adaptation did not exist (dysfunctional), and their assessment of how important it is for the adaptation to occur (importance). The Kano Model is interpreted based upon these three scores, and each adaptation can be placed into one of five categories on a scatterplot.
The survey was distributed to 40 organizations that circulated the survey to their members. The survey reached a national audience that represents the landscape of youth sports. A total of 10,359 people from 45 states completed the entire survey, representing at least 13 different sports. Nearly 92% of respondents were parents, but with the option to select multiple roles, coaches (25%), administrators (10%), athletes (9%), and officials (3%) were also represented.
Results indicated that venues and events should invest heavily and visibly in sanitization of the facility, playing areas, and equipment before, during, and after events. Venue operators and event managers can feel confident the recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to sanitize playing areas and equipment after each use will be well-received and welcomed by users. Promotion and monitoring of social-distancing guidelines, limiting personal contact between players, limiting admission to those under age 65 with no CDC-indicated pre-existing conditions, and completing a health and contact-information questionnaire prior to entering are seen by users as must-be adaptations in order for players and spectators to feel comfortable returning to youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means their presence does not bring satisfaction, but their lack of presence brings significant dissatisfaction. Respondents felt indifferent toward changing arrival and departure routines, closing amenities, and minimizing the capacity and rearranging bench areas for athletes. The presence or absence of these adaptations do not make a real difference in users’ experiences. User sentiment regarding facemasks was mixed, with strong feelings about the use and non-use of facemasks. Finally, limiting entry to athletes and game personnel but excluding spectators was not well-received by survey respondents, especially parents. Youth sports venues and events should tread lightly when considering not allowing spectators into venues, and expect negative backlash from parents should such policies be adopted.
Parents of recreational athletes viewed the adaptations in a more positive light and as a more necessary part of the youth sports experience than parents of travel athletes. A similar trend was found when comparing parents who are less willing to travel during the pandemic than those who do not expect their travel to be impacted. Travel sports parents demonstrated an increasing comfort level in traveling for competitions over the summer months, from 42% in May to 76% in August. The economic turmoil wrought by COVID-19 has touched nearly every component of American life. However, 59% of travel sports parents reported that the pandemic will not negatively impact their sports travel budget. Only 23% will experience a budget decrease greater than 25% related to youth sports travel.
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