Youth athletes' mental health hampered by community sport cancellations in pandemic

·2 min read

The pandemic has kept many of us stuck inside of our homes.

But for young athletes, that isolation has been amplified as youth sports leagues across the country have cancelled full seasons due to COVID-19. Many studies show the lack of access to sport negatively affected kids' mental health over the past 11 months.

Without access to sports, some youth have turned further toward screens, where they can watch professional athletes play the same games they yearn for while stuck at home.

According to a recent Ipsos study, 78 per cent of parents who say the pandemic has had a strong impact on their kids' participation in sport report that child as feeling lonely, while only 64 per cent of parents who say their kids' sports have not been strongly impacted report loneliness.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin on how youth sports are affected by pandemic:

That first group is also more likely to report their children finding it difficult to reduce stress and anxiety.

"This is a for-now thing. This is not going to be something that's forever," sports psychiatrist Dr. Carla Waters told CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin.

Waters says she's repeatedly heard from families struggling with the loss of sport during the pandemic.

"We need to use this as an opportunity to fulfill our identities more, not just be that unidimensional athlete but also explore whatever else brings you joy and happiness and leisure," she said.

Over 80 per cent of community sport organizations say they're worried about offering programs for the rest of 2021, while 52 per cent stare down permanent closure as a result of the pandemic.

Canadian Tire, Jumpstart helping community sports.

On Thursday, Canadian Tire Corporation committed an additional $12 million to Jumpstart Charities Sport Relief Fund, building on $8 million donated in 2020 to help rebuild community sports across the country.

"With Canadian Tire and Jumpstart's support, we can help safeguard the return to sport and play from playground to podium, ultimately helping kids, athletes and communities not simply overcome this challenge, but emerge even stronger," said Catriona Le May Doan, a two-time Olympian, Canada's chef de mission for Beijing 2022 and the CEO of Sport Calgary.

The organizations say the donation will go toward building new accessible spaces for sport, individual child grants, a new community volunteer program and expanded play-from-home resources.