Team Sports Was A COVID-19 Risk We Were Willing To Take
There have been, and continue to be, a lot of tough moments directly related to the pandemic. After sending gratitude to the universe for our health and jobs that waned but were still present, my ex-partner and I released exasperated sighs when we looked at our three very active, high-energy kids.
As exhausting and tricky as it can be to get them all to their playdates, birthday parties, sports practices and games, or after school extracurricular activities, we all thrived on that busyness. My oldest is nine and my twins are seven, and suddenly the color-coded dry erase calendar that kept the wheels on their freight train was gone.
I didn’t mind the rush of meals, changing in the car, or extra laundry and mental gymnastics of trying to figure out who needed to be where and when. My patience, sanity, and desire to be around my kids depended on the recreational programs and teams my kids were a part of. Then COVID-19 shut it all down, and we longed for the day we could be on the field or court again.
When that day finally arrived, I couldn’t have been more thankful.
We knew in April that our Little League season was indefinitely postponed, then it was cancelled; then we got an email in June from a couple of the coaches asking if kids would be interested in a five-week, once-a-week session of summer ball. The guidelines were strict, social distancing would be maintained, and YES DEAR GOD YES, where do I sign up??
My oldest didn’t want to play, but my twins couldn’t get their gear out of their closets fast enough, because the ability to finally play a sport wasn’t just practicing a skill. The thrill of putting on a uniform and embodying a “real” player allowed their imaginations to take them out of the pandemic and back to times when COVID-19 didn’t exist. It gave them hope that maybe things could be normal again. Knowing we had something, anything, to be on time for was exciting.
I have always been an advocate for moving muscles and changing scenery to change moods and shift energy, but the kids hadn’t had the external motivation to get out of their pajamas and off of their bullshit. They were all set with my nature walks and bike rides. Knowing they would get to see Coach and some of their buddies was the dangling carrot my kids were missing to move their cranky asses from their fortress of gummy wrappers, complaints of boredom, and endless efforts to push all of their siblings’ buttons. It wasn’t just the activity they needed, it was the socialization too.
The change in the twins when they came home after their first practice was palpable. They were red-faced, dirty, sweaty and so fucking happy. It hit me hard how much they had needed it. Their mourning for old routines and activities had manifested in defiance and regression that made it hard to hear what they missed: games, friends, and rules within the enclosed space of a field. They needed predictability and routine.
After seeing that our town pulled off summer camps and sports in a safe way, I happily signed all three of my kids up for fall soccer. Even with the start of school, our state has done an amazing job at mitigating risk and maintaining a close to zero virus positivity rate. Even knowing they had to wear masks while playing, the kids were eager to find their cleats and shin guards. They had another reason to go to the sports store for new gear, but more importantly, they have a new outlet to channel their ridiculous need to compete.
I wish they would fight over who can get ready for bed fastest, but it’s usually over who can hoard the most precious LEGO pieces or who got the biggest ice cream cone. I digress. Though, speaking of food, the biggest disappointment for pandemic-themed youth soccer has been the elimination of the team snack. In order to reduce risk of cross-contamination and eliminate the potential for grouping, the coaches made it a rule that there would be no post-game snack because nothing draws a crowd like juice boxes and granola bars.
The porta-potties are gone, too, so I have added a travel toilet to my Amazon cart, but for now peeing in the woods has added to the adventure of getting back to old routines we love. And who doesn’t love the freedom of pissing into the wind?
It has been really sweet to watch the way the coaches and players have adjusted the other rituals, too. The players will give each other air high fives or fist bumps instead of making hand-to-hand contact. Sometimes they will tap cleats or give mock handshakes. Before one of their games, the coach squirted hand sanitizer into each kid’s hands as he ran down the starting line-up. Kids sat a few feet from each other with masks on like it was no big deal. It wasn’t sad; it was uplifting. Community members were not just coaching and refereeing our kids, they were providing a much-needed service to fill everyone’s buckets — theirs included.
The last six months have been harrowing, and as much as we have tried to take care of ourselves and our kids, the anxiety and frustration of living through a pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Having my kids get back into sports been the answer we have been looking for. It gives all of us space from each other, is a great distraction, and the exercise is good for their bodies and mental health. In other words, it chills them the fuck out and makes them happy. The comradery between teammates and the social benefits for the parents spread out on the sidelines has been amazing too. Masks and a few feet between us can’t stop socially-hungry and exhausted parents from laughing and commiserating with each other.
The fields are less populated and the game looks a little different than last year, but the return to sports has definitely given us something to cheer for.
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