Play ball?

Guest column by Kinsey Snell

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Because I work with kids, kids have been on my mind … and because I coach kids, sports have been on my mind. It is time to bring both back to life.

No, sports aren’t the end-all, be-all. Of course, there are many people suffering greater losses than a sports season, but I would argue that for a typical middle- or high-school student you’d be hard-pressed to deliver a bigger gut punch than a canceled season. 

If you’re removed from the sports world or if you view sports as some sort of time-robbing distraction from “the things that really matter”, I don’t expect you to understand. But if you’ve ever been a player or a coach … or been privy to watch from the sidelines as a child you love participated in a game they love … then surely your heart breaks for what was lost this spring and threatens to be taken away this summer and fall. 

What was lost? A few games? Some track meets? 

No. Much more than that. 

With the spring season, so went inside jokes and relationships … friendships … laughter. Lost were bus rides … and post-game meals. Missed were life lessons that come with pushing further and running faster than previously thought possible. Sweat, tears, and high-fives. 

As a coach, I can’t help but think about the now-disrupted trajectory of development for these kids. So many were improving, growing, developing … only to be instantaneously pushed down in a beanbag chair with a game controller now glued to their hands. Many of these kids are in the rapid-growth phase of puberty, a season of life you simply can’t afford to “sit” through.

I am not downplaying COVID-19, but can we stop for one second to consider the effect social distancing (and in some cases, isolation) is having on our children? Maybe your kids are fortunate enough to have other kids in the neighborhood with parents who understand the importance of protecting the mental and emotional health of children and so they’re allowed to run and play. That has been the case for my kids and I will not apologize for allowing them to be kids through all of this. 

But what about those who have been inside for 8 weeks? 

What about those who live in more rural areas without friends or family close by? 

What about the rising senior suffering with the anxiety that he may not be able to play his last high school football season? … left to deal with that anxiety alone in his bedroom. 

What about the graduating senior whose college scholarship now hangs in the balance? 

If you don’t work with teenagers, maybe you don’t appreciate how rampant mental health issues are in this demographic … on a good day! I certainly don’t claim to be any kind of mental health expert … but I know what sports have done for my mental health. I know what running still does for me. I have thanked God many, many times in the last 8 weeks for the gift of running. Exercise is currently the only thing keeping at bay the overwhelming emotions that are sitting just beneath the surface of my skin. If I didn’t have exercise, I would no doubt turn to something else – anything else – to quiet my brain. If you stop to consider some popular coping mechanisms of teenagers, you might start the see the importance of giving them back the option to play sports … as sports oftentimes take the place of what would be drugs and alcohol. 

Well, nothing is stopping them from running. Nothing is stopping them from exercising and training on their own. Sure, some are self-motivated. But many aren’t. Also, God bless you if you’ve never felt the effects of even mild depression … but if you have, you know getting up to go for a run when your entire system is depressed is much easier said than done – for an adult – much less a teenager or child. They can’t possibly be expected to process or even recognize the symptoms of depression. Yet many of them are anxious and depressed and we are denying them access to a safe and healthy way to manage the anxiety and depression.

For many teenagers, sports are their only release valve. 

How much longer can we expect them to sit and wait while we argue about the politics of a virus? 

It is time to apply some common sense to this situation. 

If you can get your hair done, your daughter should be able to go to gymnastics. 

If you can get your nails done, your son should be able to practice karate.

If we can pack in to Lowe’s and Publix, surely we can spread out in a gym or stadium to cheer for and support our sons and daughters this fall. 

If teenagers are allowed to work as “essential employees” … then certainly they should be allowed to attend sports practices with their teammates. 

For goodness sake … our pets are having their needs met with weekly grooming appointments … seems like we could do more for our children. 

It’s time to let them play.

Kinsey Snell is the head track and field coach at Loganville Christian Academy

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