The majority of high school athletes say that their interest in playing sports has remained the same or grown over the past year, despite worries that they could catch or transmit COVID-19 through sports participation. 

Those were among the findings announced from a survey by the Aspen Institute that collected data from more than 5,000 students in grades 9-12 between October 2020 and March 2021. Responses were from boys’ and girls’ athletes across all sports, including lacrosse.

Two-thirds (66%) of the students indicated concerns about catching COVID-19 through sports, with students in urban (74%) and suburban (68%) areas more concerned than students in rural (57%) communities.

Despite those concerns, only 16% of respondents indicated that their interest in sports had decreased, while 54% said their interest has remained the same since the start of the pandemic, and 30% said their interest in playing sports has increased.

Private school students expressed the most growing interest in sports (37%), compared to students in public (29%) and charter (26%) schools. 

A full report from the survey findings can be accessed here
In the Aspen Institute survey, 59% of students said that what they most miss from sports is having fun. Students were allowed to provide multiple answers. Other sports benefits that students said they missed: playing with and making new friends (53%), getting exercise (51%), learning and improving skills (42%), and competing against others (41%). 

Lower ranked answers included winning (38%), the ability to use sports to earn college scholarships (21%), and improving college admissions (20%).

With high school sports now returning in some parts of the country, many health officials continue to recommend mask use for sports participants, coaches, and fans, as well as active screening for participants. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), 21 states have mandated masks during competition and 14 states require masks except during competition. 

As US Lacrosse medical experts have noted, the greater risk to a safe return to play at this time is likely to be from off-the field activity than from the actual competitions.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were at the start of the pandemic when we were really concerned about on-field transmission,” said Dr. Andrew Lincoln, director of the MedStar Health Research Institute and a member of the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee. “That turned out to be not-so-much the worry. Now it’s much more about greeting, meeting, and eating together, and what we can do to make sure that it doesn’t happen in a way that puts kids at risk.”

In the Aspen Institute survey, 58% of the students said their school could help reduce COVID-19 concerns by providing protective equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer. Other options cited by students to address COVID-19 concerns: modify practices to reduce close contact (43%), hold practice with small groups (37%), reduce the number of practices (22%), and don’t compete against other schools (14%).