Study Background

Over the past 13 months, COVID-19 has completely altered and impacted nearly every area of our lives, and youth sports is no exception. As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, facility managers and tournament directors were left to determine how to manage their business given the uncertainty during the early days. County, state, and federal mandates requiring shutdowns of facilities influenced decisions to close facilities.

During the full facility shutdown, facility managers and tournament directors attempted to address the needs of the business and facility. Due to the lack of revenue, some facilities temporarily laid off or reduced hours for employees, working with a smaller staff to address needs such as facility maintenance, purchasing COVID-19 cleaning and health supplies, and COVID-19 protocol development. Additionally, they attempted to maximize new opportunities specific to the pandemic, either by applying for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans or extending hours to meet childcare needs in the local community.

As health officials allowed facilities to reopen at reduced capacity, owners and leaders were left to determine how to operate under the new guidelines. Facility and tournament directors sought guidance from local health departments to determine if they were categorized as a business that could reopen to the public. Governing bodies, sports facilities, and event operators then created modifications and adaptations for participants and spectators to ensure a safe environment.

This study examines 2021 travel season stakeholder opinions related to COVID-related adaptations in youth sports. Results are intended to guide tournament and facility directors related to business practice and client perceptions.

Return to play at the facilities and tournaments was welcome by athletes and families, even though the return looked different in many cases. To abide by mandated gathering restrictions, players either attended by themselves or with one family member, a restriction the facilities noted as difficult to manage. New protocols were developed, including changes to arrival and departure routines, limiting spectators, health screening, social distancing, face coverings, increased sanitization, closure of amenities, altered bench and dugouts areas, and limitations on personal contact (Pierce et al., 2020).

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty, tournament and facility directors eagerly await the ability to provide a space for youth to return to play. Youth and recreational sports facilities and events are revisiting COVID-19 guidelines and procedures as the virus reaches new phases. The new phases include states lifting their masks mandates and a larger percentage of the population receiving a vaccine. As of April 16, 13 states have lifted their masks mandate and just over a quarter of Americans have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

The purpose of this study is to assess the opinions of key stakeholders in youth sports on their attitude toward COVID-related adaptations for the upcoming travel seasons of 2021. The results can be used by tournament and facility directors to understand the attitudes of the users that will attend events.