Webinar Takeaways: Evening the Playing Field – Pandemic Forces Revamp of Mental Health & Inclusion in Youth Sports

On Wednesday, TeamSnap, Sports Business Journal, Aspen Institute, and Positive Coaching Alliance joined forces to provide an insightful discussion on how the pandemic has accelerated the need for mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in youth sports.

The conversation was moderated by Eileen Silvergleid, CRO at Leaders Group Sports. Taking part in the discussion was TeamSnap’s Director of Community Impact, Lance Lee, Marty Fox, Project Play 2024 Lead, Aspen Institute Sports & Society, and Marti Reed, former D1 Athlete, Director of National Partnerships, DEI Programming Manager, Positive Coaching Alliance.

Marti Reed kicked off the conversation by distinguishing the differences between mental health and mental illness.

“In essence the two are not the same, while we all have mental health. Mental health affects all people, some people might experience mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t always lead to poor mental health, and poor mental health is not always due to mental illness.”

Marty Fox went on to share some findings from a national survey that the Aspen Institute put together that focused on high schoolers post-pandemic. The report provides results found during the 2020-2021 school year and was conducted by the Resonant Education staff members in collaboration with the Aspen Institute. The survey asked students about their participation in sports as well as their perceptions about sports in high school. Over nearly 6,000 students responded to the survey from schools all over the country, private, public and charter schools represented.

“81% of high school athletes said that they played sports to have fun,” Marty Fox said to kick-off the findings. It was the most popular response. They also said that they played to develop skills and make friends, almost half explicitly identified that they played for their emotional well-being and mental health. Including 56% of girls identified that their mental health is one of the key reasons they participated in sports.”

  1. Having Fun 81%

  2. Exercise 79%

  3. Learning and improving skills 66%

  4. Playing with and making new friends 64%

  5. Competing (testing myself against others) 59%

  6. Winning games 53%

Shifting gears to a different perspective, the Aspen Institute additionally surveyed parents. A similar survey was ran around parents and their expectations with sport for their children. Last September, parents of younger athletes 6-12 was surveyed.

“1/4 of youth sports parents said that their child athletes mental health decreased slightly or greatly since the start of the pandemic,” Fox said. 22% emotional control had decreased and 30% said that their child’s social well-being had decreased. Following up with those findings, they surveyed parents who’s children had returned to sports because of restrictions being lifted. “Almost 1/2 of those parents said that their child’s mental health has improved.”

That being said, there still could be some lasting impact on access and participation in sport.

TeamSnap’s Lance Lee chimed in to discuss access to youth sports.

“Part of my job, is addressing the issue of affordability. When you look at the biggest barriers to sport, whether it’s a sport like tennis or a sport like basketball or baseball, with the prevalence of AAU and travel, and private caches and fields, and nutritionists and college videos, the cost of just playing sports even pre pandemic has increased exponentially. So it’s not just those elite level sports, it’s with all sports.”

So, what is being done?

“Once the pandemic hit, an even brighter light was shown on those disparities, so were really trying to increase access to sport by providing scholarships, by providing grants, by partnering with organizations like PCA and Aspen Institute to make sure that kids get a chance to play.”

If you’re interested in listening to the discussion, please tune in below. Additionally you can find resources covered in the panel linked:

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