Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on youth sport in Australia and consequences for future participation and retention

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    Background: COVID-19 continues to represent the single biggest challenge to contemporary community sport globally. Compliance with social distancing policies, strict return-to-play protocols, and COVID-19 specific training has, perhaps, forever changed the way that children and young people engage in organised sport. Within this context, and while many children and families seek to re-engage with community sport, we (researchers and sport practitioners) have an obligation to ask questions about how the pandemic has impacted youth sport, understand the short- and long-term consequences, and explore what (if any) opportunities can be seized to assist and improve future participation and retention. The aim of this paper was to present an in-depth exploration of the impact of COVID-19 on youth sport in South Australia. Methods: Within an interpretive descriptive methodology, this qualitative investigation draws on rich, individual interview and focus group data with 39 youth (ages 15–18), parents, coaches, and sport administrators. A reflexive thematic analysis was undertaken, leading to the development of four substantive themes. Results: We conceptualised the ‘4 Rs’ to advance theoretical understandings about the pandemic’s impact on youth sport, including the themes ‘recognising struggle’, ‘reconnection’, ‘re-engaging after restrictions, and ‘reimagining sport’. The themes captured insights about a decline in mental wellbeing and physical activity, an increase in family connectedness, the challenge for sports to attract volunteers and participants back into sport, and the opportunities to reset values and philosophies underpinning the provision of youth sport. Conclusion: The findings provide valuable insight into the youth sport setting as a result of the global pandemic and suggest that families, sporting clubs and sporting organisations require additional resources and tools (for example, support for parents to facilitate their children’s training at home during lockdown) to aid recovery efforts and to ensure the survival and prosperity of youth sport into the future.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number448
    Number of pages16
    JournalBMC Public Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2021


    • Youth Sport
    • Covid-19
    • Participation
    • COVID-19
    • Youth sport
    • Coronavirus
    • Pandemic
    • Retention


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