2021 COVID-19 Return to Youth Sports

Perceptions of COVID-19-related Adaptations in Youth Travel Sports

Executive Summary

COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of life, and youth sport is no exception. States and counties have published and are regularly modifying their guidelines for permitting youth sports to return. Governing bodies, sports facilities, and event operators have created modifications and adaptations for participants and spectators to ensure a safe environment.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel—according to CDCdata, as of the end of April 2021, over a quarter of Americans have received the COVID-19 vaccine. With the number of daily administered doses of the vaccine exceeding three million and steadily increasing by the day, our eventual “return to normal” will come sooner rather than later.

This study, conducted by the Sports Innovation Institute (SII) at IUPUI, aGrand Park Logo partnership between Indiana and Purdue Universities in Indianapolis, and Grand Park Sports Campus, sought to evaluate the current perceptions and attitudes of parents, athletes, coaches, officials, and administrators toward COVID-related adaptations.

SII collected 2,917 survey responses from parents, coaches, and athletes who participate in youth travel sports, predominantly from seven Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin). Clustered respondents fell into four groups based on their perceptions of removing COVID-related adaptations and attitude toward COVID-19. The results provide youth sports facilities and event operators with actionable data regarding when, how much, and for whom specific COVID-19 adaptations and procedures can be scaled back as our country steadily approaches normalcy.

SII's director David Pierce talks with WTTV CBS4Indy about study results. Preparing for summer 2021 youth sports.    

Key Findings

  1. Forty percent of respondents supported the removal of at least eight of the nine COVID-related adaptations. Removal of face coverings for participants had the most support (75%), followed by bench and dugout modifications (73%), limiting spectators (71%), amenities (71%), arrival and departure times (60%), personal contact between athletes (58%), face coverings for spectators (57%), and social distancing for spectators (55%). The exception was that only 36% of respondents agreed that facilities should scale back on sanitization to pre-COVID levels. Opinions were split, however, as 50% of respondents wanted to see at least seven of the nine adaptations removed, while 35% wanted to see at least four of the adaptations remain in place.
  2. Respondents believe that indoor youth sports tournaments should have tighter attendance restrictions than outdoor tournaments. Overall, 45% of respondents believe there should be no attendance restrictions during indoor tournaments whereas 76% of respondents believe there should be no attendance restrictions during outdoor tournaments.
  3. Families that travel for youth sports have seen little change to their travel habits as a result of the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of respondents reported the pandemic did not affect their travel plans or habits for youth sports tournaments.
  4. Respondents are comfortable lodging in a hotel for a tournament that requires an overnight stay. For each month from March to August, over 90% of all respondents are comfortable traveling overnight for youth sports tournaments.
  5. Current economic conditions have had almost no impact on respondents' sports travel budget. Only 31% of all respondents reported allocating less money in their budget toward youth sports travel, and 61.5% of individuals reported COVID-19 had no impact.
  6. Respondents reported wanting slightly more strict procedures for those participating in youth sports (coaches, players, and officials) than spectators. Overall, 51% of respondents believe there should be entry requirements for participants and 44% believe there should be entry requirements for spectators.
  7. There are four groups of attendees that venues can expect in 2021. The Normalcy Overdue group wants to eliminate all the COVID-related adaptations utilized by youth sports venues and strongly believes that we should have “returned to normal” before now. The Ready to Return group is quite similar to the Normalcy Overdue group with two key exceptions: (1) a lower adaptation removal score (7.4 out of 9) and (2) 96% believe that society should return to normal now. The Middle of the Road group wanted to eliminate half of the COVID-adaptations (4.5 out of 9). The COVID Cautious group wants to keep all the COVID-related adaptations utilized by youth sports venues and strongly believes that we should return to normal when herd immunity is reached.