At this point in our national reaction to the threat of the COVID-19 virus, the impact on daily routines is everywhere. Schools, restaurants, community centers and many businesses have all closed temporarily. Distance learning, remote work and social distancing are the new norms.

Sadly, the disruption to youth sports, including the traditional spring lacrosse season, is also upon us.

That doesn’t mean, however, that kids should cease all physical activities.

Recommendations from The Aspen Institute’s Project Play encourages parents to facilitate opportunities for children to move in order to ensure physical and mental well-being. 

According to Sara Poehlman, a care expert who works on emergency education and parent programs, this is especially important if kids are now engaged in distance learning via computer.

“Movement in between periods of study is essential to ensure focus, concentration, and sustained attention,” she said.

Physical activities recommended by Poehlman include running around the block, jumping jacks, yoga, or a dance party. Screen time may seem like a solution to keep children occupied, but it can be detrimental to their mood and energy when used for a prolonged period of time, she said. Poehlman recommends short intervals of screen time (no binge watching) and selecting content that motivates physical activity.

“Boys and girls need free, unstructured time for play,” Poehlman said. “If they do have worries, play can be a strategy to work them out.”

Project Play recommends individual activities such as running, riding bikes, or in the case of lacrosse players, wall ball or shooting practice. The focus should be on playing in an isolated environment and avoiding settings where equipment is shared, including gyms and playground installations.

Many of Project Play’s movement recommendations are consistent with US Lacrosse’s Athlete Development Model, including some of the free play activities and exercises highlighted in 60 Ways to Play

The current shutdown of youth sports, while painful, could yield a positive benefit in the future.

“In the long term, I hope this shutdown sparks the return of free play for more kids,” said Jon Solomon of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised in my neighborhood to see so many kids outside riding bikes and scooters, shooting baskets, and going for walks – while keeping appropriate social distancing. With no organized sports taking up their time and energy, they’re playing on their terms. The key will be parents recognizing this happening and allowing it to continue in the future.”