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The Pandemic’s Impact on Parents of Student Athletes

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The lights shine on an empty football stadium at Richfield High School Wednesday night, April 8, 2020, in Richfield, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

By Cheryl McCormick, M.S.S. |

While listening to a lecture that Dr. Jordan Metzl, “a sports medicine physician in New York City,” conducted on the topic of COVID-19 and the sport community, I started to think about the negative repercussions that parents are experiencing from having their young athletes removed from sports.

For many, sports are a community that establishes connections, develop new life-long friendships, motivation, determination to be successful in one’s academic endeavors, and so much more. The parents of children who are participating in sports are intimately involved in many aspects of youth sport and COVID-related changes have an impact on everyone who plays a role.

Home quarantine has impacted many families across the world and may have severe effects on the mental health of parents with athletes who remain home and out of sport. For many states across the U.S. sports are slowly moving back to a more-normal feel.. Although each city has different regulations, the concerns of spreading the virus have caused at least some change in the way youth sports are operating. Outdoor sports like baseball, cross country, and soccer tend to be of lower risk and therefore more athletes are able to participate. However, many indoor sports remain at high risk and therefore participation can be limited.

As each city and state begins to see fewer COVID-19 cases, it is imperative to have preventive measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 cases spiking. Unfortunately, due to the closing of restaurants, stores, and sports, parents are having difficulty handling the new changes within their households. These stressors have caused an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression. However, due to novelty of wide-spread quarantine, there have been very few studies that investigate the mental health of parents with athletes who remain quarantined.

When COVID-19 became a threat to America, the stress from news, social media, and the closure of businesses caused people’s mental health to rapidly decline. From past studies, research has identified that the stress response in humans is strong during life changing events and prolonged stress can cause individuals to have an increase in anxiety and depression. Social gatherings with family and friends, including interactions with strangers, plays a vital role in maintaining these negative mental health complications.

Today, many parents have experienced difficult situations like the loss of loved ones, the loss of work and stability, and unfortunately continue to isolate in silence at home. In many cases, the parent-child relationship can become lost in a family who has previously been consumed by a busy lifestyle. It is common for parents to work full-time jobs, meanwhile their children are in school and participate in extracurricular activities, like sports. However, COVID has forced people to stay at home and communication and scheduling within the household has created more stress at home. In addition, parents’ lack of healthy communication with their children during this stressful time can also cause mental health complications to increase. The fear of reaching out or consulting in person with a professional may cause these situations to escalate.

During these times, I like to incorporate mindfulness, a preventive measure that we all can implement into our daily lives. Mindfulness is a word that I often communicate to coaches and athletes at Gravitational Performance. It is the ability to be aware of your actions and feelings by incorporating mindset techniques, like breathing, meditation, and more. Being mindful of mental health complications in your household, will give you an advantage to tackle problems that can arise from it. This includes, working on oneself, first. Parents cannot be the best for their children, if they are not good for themselves. Therefore, I would like to offer a few tips that parents with active children can identify and implement daily, to reduce their stress and concerns, as well as incorporating family members to participate in at home activities.

Tip 1: Focus on keeping your household active so when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in your area, you and your children are ready to return to your normal routines, without concerns of mental stress or injury occurring.

Tip 2: While physical activity is important for the human body, so is mental training. Implementing mental mindset techniques as a group, can help reduce unwanted stressors like, negative self-talk.

Tip 3: If sports and business are opening back up in your area, be an advocate to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. This means that parents with kids who participate in school and sports, should work closely with coaches, schools, and other parents to develop effective strategies like mask wearing, physical distancing whenever possible, access to hand sanitizer and washing, and limited physical contact – when possible.. Having parents, coaches, and school staff monitoring the hallways at school and sport facility grounds, will ensure that everyone is abiding by these rules.

Tip 4: There is no time like the present to begin teaching your kids (ages 4 on up) to help clean their rooms and participate in cleaning the household. This process will encourage them to disinfect areas that are commonly used and teach them how to respect their belongings. Regular daily cleaning can encourage children to incorporate their healthy habits outside of the house and can encourage others to follow their routines.

Tip 5: Because many gyms are not open, parents have been forced to cut back on physical exercise. Incorporating physical activity at home can be done with everyone in the household, especially those who have athletes stuck at home. To make it fun for the athlete, have the athlete prepare a couple of workouts each week for oneself and the parents to participate in as group training. This will ensure that everyone in a household remains physically active.

Tip 6: Take trips that encourage the outdoors. Camping, hiking, going to the zoo, and more. If traveling far, pack food and disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. There have been many studies conducted that taking family trips and doing outdoor activities together, like hiking and fishing, increases communication and trust among family members. This bonding time also allows parents to step aside from a normal setting (like being stuck at home) and can open opportunities to talk to one’s children. Making this a monthly family outing can also form a tighter bond with immediate family.

Tip 7: Play games. Some of the top purchases since COVID-19 are board games. Order a few new board games to add to your collection and make it fun. It can help get teenagers out of their rooms and away from seclusion.

Tip 8: Encourage talk whenever possible. Parents are just as much at fault as children are when it comes to technology like cell phones and tablets. It has become normal to have these devices in pockets and at the dinner table. Find time each day to remove these devices and talk to each other. This means, no distractions. Make a warm beverage for yourself and your child and go outside and talk. Don’t pry, just talk. This can open communication and can reduce mental health complications to arise.

Tip 9: Request that coaches make training schedules (realistic) for parents to incorporate among their athletes at home. This will ensure that when athletes return to play, they do not face injury.

Tip 10: Cook together. This is a great time to work on eating healthy and engraining healthy habits among youth and teenagers at home.

As studies increase in this area, parents must understand signs and symptoms of mental health complications. It is important to note that there is no easy way to identify if regular behaviors of a person are a result in mental illness, but each person should be able to identify when they feel off and their normal daily functions are reduced. These may include:

  • Sleeping in and not wanting to get out of bed
  • Lack of desire to get dressed and look presentable
  • The feeling of sadness
  • Being overly worried
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Consume higher amounts of alcohol
  • Negative self-talk
  • Seclusion from friends and family (calling, texting, or video calls)
  • Long periods of anger
  • Having a problem concentrating
  • Lack of physical activity or movement
  • Changes in eating habits and sex drive
  • Excessive weight gain or weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Constant shaking of twitching of hands, legs, or continuous movement of the body
  • Restless sleep or inability to fall asleep
  • Nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramping
  • Often “spacing out” or “staring off in space”

Although there are many more signs and symptoms, these are commonly expressed among individuals who are experiencing mental health complications. Therefore, it is imperative that parents have an outlet and professionals pay attention to the need for support in this area. Increasing awareness among this topic will also increase the ability for further studies to be conducted, which can provide beneficial tips that parents can work on incorporating in their daily household routines. If parents witness any of these signs and symptoms among their children, it is important that you seek professional help to tackle mental health complications before they are worse. Gravitational Performance works to educate and consult with parents, athletes, and coaches to better assist with mental and physical preparations in sport performance. We are offering lectures on topics like mindfulness and mental mindset and providing skills training and techniques that can be incorporated among everyone. Feel free to navigate to the website and subscribe to The Lecture Hall.

Cheryl McCormick, M.S.S. the owner and founder of Gravitational Performance and School of Sports Science, is also a doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy. Her former years as an athlete has guided her interests into education in sports and passion for research as a sports scientist, content developer, educator, and sport science consultant- working in sports medicine, sports nutrition, and sports psychology. She can be reached at gravitationalperformance@gmail.com and www.gravitationalperformance.org

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