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  • Writer's pictureCity of Edmonton Youth Council

The Importance of In-School Sports Returning Amidst the Pandemic

Written by:Julianna Galiano | Edited by: Sithara Naidoo

Disclaimer – This interview was conducted in November of 2021, while COVID-19 cases were lower and restrictions were lighter.

The thrill of a win, the sound of a ball swishing through a net or slamming on the ground, the cheer of a crowd. These sounds and moments are familiar to many, we associate them with the joys of high school athletics. For a little over a year, these were moments that were completely stripped from high school students, athletes and their community.

I sat down with Ms. Alysia Zvonkovic, multi-sport coach and teacher at Archbishop MacDonald High School, to discuss the importance of high school sports and the effects that the sporadic shut downs over the past two years have had on youth’s social and mental health.

“You create memories by playing games, pre-game rituals, etc, it is just a really awesome experience” said Zvonkovic.

She reminisced on her own high school days, bringing up how important games, pregame rituals and the mental aspects associated with the game are for young athletes. This insistence of a connection, this moment of sharing love was something that COVID-19 completely stripped from not just athletes, but from us all.

Certainly, the lack of these social and lovable moments of connection is affecting student athletes. Teachers and coaches in particular are noticing the ongoing consequences on emotional health, social interaction and physical activity.

“They became a lot less self motivated to do things” commented Zvonkovic.

She says that cutting sports and social interactions with isolation and the shutdowns was one of many instances where youth truly felt the restrictions and felt held back by COVID-19. Without their game, not only athletes, but kids across the board lacked self motivation.

Considering the recent and current shift in our school and sports environments due to the Omicron variant, the state of school sports is at a rocky stand compared to earlier this school year. As we watch our numbers of cases fluctuate weekly, the return of sports has come with its own set of safety rules. With the Back to Play plan set out by Metro Athletics, schools have taken actions towards protecting both athletes and teams. Things such as intense sanitizing between games, keeping masks on while not in play and most notably the lack of spectators at games, must happen in order for students to be able to play.

Schools, as well as Metro Athletics, are offering excellent alternatives to keep both students and parents included in the game by offering the opportunity to view live streams of games and such.

Despite the fact that some may call this disheartening, Ms. Zvonkovic commented that “in our first tryouts back, we saw many kids come out – some who had played for years, some who had never played before, and such. Kids are just eager to get out and participate.”

In conclusion, from Zvonkovic’s perspective, the return of in-school sports, safely, is extremely important for athletes and students across the board. In terms of mental and physical health, goal setting and motivation, as well as others, in-school athletics are crucial. Sports give youth an opportunity for growth, development, learning and most of all, a purpose of something to pursue within and outside of their school community.

As we unfortunately watch COVID-19 bring many of the things we love to a stand still, we can only hope for a future of normalcy in play and the very things that fuels high school spirit and experiences.

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