Over the past two years, we have all had to hit pause on activities we enjoyed as the COVID-19 pandemic altered our way of life.
We are now learning the impacts of those pauses, and how we can move forward again to regain and rebuild a full and healthy life.
Arguably our children are among those most heavily impacted, with stay at home orders, daily outdoor limitations and closures of local sporting clubs sending children across the country scurrying to their bedrooms and living rooms for months on end.
The latest results from the RCH National Child Health Poll shed valuable light on the reduction of children's participation in community sport since the pandemic.
Given the important role community sport plays in the health and wellbeing of our kids, it is vital we support and encourage children and young people to get back out there and play on.
Our latest poll results found half of Australian children have participated in less organised sport since COVID-19, with one in three doing a lot less or no sport.
The impact of the pandemic on participation has been greatest in Victoria and NSW, where many months of lockdown were experienced by millions of children and families.
The majority of parents around Australia recognised the value of community sport for their child's mental and physical wellbeing, with 59 per cent of parents saying it's just as important, and 37 per cent saying it's even more important now compared to before COVID-19.
The health benefits of participating in sports are well-documented. Not only are there positive physical health outcomes, but community sport also provides an important opportunity for children to connect and interact with their peers outside of school and home, boosting social and emotional wellbeing.
The mental health impact of the pandemic on children and young people has been immense, with feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by many. A loss of engagement in community sport has minimised opportunities for connection and likely contributed to the mental health impact on children seen throughout the pandemic.
While it is no big surprise Australian children are playing less sport since the pandemic, it is concerning to find many children are not intending to return. Although parents clearly understand the value of community sport, they say that costs, the risk of catching COVID-19, and frequent disruptions make them hesitant about going back. Parents also say that many children have lost interest, lost fitness or feel too busy to participate in these activities.
While it is no big surprise Australian children are playing less sport since the pandemic, it is concerning to find many children are not intending to return.
With cost being the leading concern for parents, it's clear that equitable access and additional supports are urgently needed in this space. We know that the pandemic resulted in financial hardships for many families, and most said that registration, fees, clothing, or equipment are too expensive when it comes to sport.
Although some supports exist across Australia in the form of various Government vouchers, more needs to be done by local, state and federal governments to help bridge the financial gap so that all children can have the opportunity to experience the benefits of community sport.
Interestingly, while most parents feel confident in a COVID-19 exposure being safely managed by their child's sporting organisation, 34 per cent of parents still flagged the fear of catching COVID-19 as an ongoing factor affecting the transition back.
Most parents also feel that the COVID-19 precautions in place at their child's sports club are 'about right', but four in ten parents are not aware of a COVID-19 safe policy at their child's sporting organisation.
Adequate resourcing and supports for clubs and organisations are needed to allow for implementation of COVID-safe policies and to support clubs in effectively communicating these policies to families.
Given the well-established physical and mental health benefits of community sport, reengagement of children and young people in these activities should be treated a priority as restrictions ease across Australia.
Ongoing consideration should also be given to how we minimise future disruption to these activities as the pandemic continues and we face future outbreaks.
While parents are aware of the benefits of community sport, healthy habits are hard to make and easy to break and many Australian children and families are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out after months of pandemic stress.
Families need support, reassurance, and encouragement to reconnect with community sport and help their kids bounce back.
- Dr Anthea Rhodes, Paediatrician and director of RCH National Child Health Poll.