OPINION: It’s wrong to stop children playing football when they’re already mixing with each other

It doesn't seem right that children can play football together at school, but can't mix outside of i

It doesn't seem right that children can play football together at school, but can't mix outside of it, says Neil Perry. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Under-10s football coach Neil Perry says not playing sport has a big impact on children’s wellbeing

I’m sure there are plenty of businesses, organisations and sports that could claim they are a special case when it comes to Covid restrictions. As a coach of a youth football team, I would argue on so many levels you could make the case for continuing youth sport.

I coach an under-10s side and have worked with a lot of the same children since they were four years old which makes it more than a team, but more like an extended football family.

With such strict lockdown rules over the next few weeks it is throwing up anomalies all over society. You can show someone round your house if it is up for sale, but your mum can’t come over for a cup of tea. You could go for a walk with a friend, but you couldn’t play them at tennis despite being even further away from them. There are contradictions of logic liberally scattered through every corner of our lives in the next few weeks and football is certainly one of them.

The players in my team will happily be at school with their teammates, have a kick around at lunch break, and even be coached by a teacher during PE. After 3pm and the school bell rings they then can’t play football with the same group of friends. It feels inconsistent to let them go ahead with the same activity at one time of the day, but change the setting and it is no longer permitted. These children are mixing anyway, so it seems rather pointless to cancel an activity that gives them so much.

In every decision our Government is making to do with the pandemic it is always a question of balance. Whether you agree with the particular way they are loading the scales is always the point of argument and debate, but they are ultimately trying to balance the physical health of the nation with the financial health of the economy. So many of the parents I work with in my role as a coach have said to me the huge benefits their children have had since returning to football training and then matches during the summer. The boys in my team have revelled in the normality of it all, as well the physical and mental health benefits of what they’re doing.

Once the initial lockdown measures were eased we were allowed non-contact training in small groups, before that being extended to larger groups, and then competitive games again at the end of the summer. Coaches like me have diligently been following the rules of setting up sanitising stations at our games, disinfecting equipment before and after sessions, and generally been following every extra bit of work we need to do to keep our sport safe for the children and families involved. I am yet to see any evidence that grassroots sport has been a spreader of Covid. I know from my experience in our team we’ve not had a single case. We’ve been responsible and followed the guidelines, and anyone who has been showing any possible symptoms has stayed away, but we’re not had a single positive case.

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For an activity that does not seem to be spreading the illness, it feels that the balance is wrong, as it has a big impact on our young players who need the outlet and stimulation that sport provides.

Ultimately there is little we can do though apart from wait until measures are eased and let us all return to the sport we love. The situation could be a whole lot worse, as we’re not a business that has a livelihood threatened or working in a frontline job where you have to face this pandemic head on.

If you give an exception to one sport or activity, a whole can of worms is opened and everyone will believe they are a special case that should be allowed to continue for the rest of November.

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