UofL psychology professor says sports are crucial for social, mental health

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) – As of now, Kentucky is playing ball in the Fall.

On August 20, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association voted to allow fall sports practice to begin on Aug. 24 and for games to start on September 7, upholding a tentative decision from July.

University of Louisville associate professor Judith Danovitch said the decision to take the field this Fall will give student athletes a small sense of normalcy they need.

“Kids who are into sports have developed friendships on their teams,” Danovitch said. “They’ve developed routines that revolve around what we do at practice, going to games. And they’re going to be missing all of that, just like everybody is missing a lot of the social interactions that we had.”

Danovitch teaches psychological and brain sciences, with an expertise in child development.

She told WAVE 3 News sports are crucial for a young athlete’s social and cognitive development. She said she understands the current debate surrounding high school sports, but said not playing at all could be another blow for many student athletes who are already dealing with several other uncertainties, including virtual learning.

“And that’s hard,” Danovitch said. “That’s hard for kids and it’s hard for adults too to have that loss of this social interaction and these activities that we’ve all always enjoyed.”

Danovitch said in situations like these, parents need compassion and need to understand their child’s frustration. She said parents also need to allow athletes to see their teammates, even if it is through Zoom calls or video games.

“Parents might look down on , but that’s a really important social opportunity for kids right now, especially older kids and teens,” Danovitch said. “They can play a video game with friends and at least feel like they’re still having a chance to connect with those friends.”

Danovitch’s advice is music to David Lingston’s ears.

All three of Livingston’s daughters play competitive softball. He said the life lessons his daughters learned on the field helped shape who they’ve become off the field.

“It’s very important, because I feel like sports teach the children not only leadership roles, but they also teach them, ‘if you’re not first, and maybe you’re a bench player, you’re the one who can also support the team,’” Livingston said. “KHSAA, I feel, as if as long as they are listening to the medical advice, they’re the ones from the mental health aspect understand better than anyone how this will affect our youth if they don’t get back into playing sports.”

According to a press release on Monday, the Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young sent a letter to the KHSAA’s Board of Control, urging the 18-member committee to meet and consider expanding COVID-19 guidance for student athletes.

The letter details the Aug. 28 KBE special meeting, where board members heard from KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett, Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack and several superintendents about restarting fall sports, including high-contact sports. During that meeting, the KBE voted unanimously to send the Board of Control a letter urging them to consider alternative options, guidance and further clarification on holding high-contact fall sports amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In the letter, the KBE urges the Board of Control to meet immediately and consider actions to:

  • Develop new guidance for school districts on the responsibility and authority to enforce the protocols set forth in the recent KHSAA guidance document.
  • Anticipate and clarify how KHSAA guidance is likely to evolve and put forth clear and actionable guidance on how KHSAA will respond to a spike in cases at the school, district, regional and/or statewide level.
  • Provide immediate guidance to school districts and coaches on spectator attendance at practice and competition.
  • Develop clear guidance to school districts and coaches on how to best provide resources and mental health supports to student athletes who are unable to play due to parent choice, COVID-19 quarantine, program suspension due to COVID-19 or other reasons.
  • Require that the risks of COVID-19 are disclosed to families and students in a manner that is easily understood, along with recommended steps for student “return to sports” following a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • Take steps, including but not limited to instructing KHSAA to work with KDE and the Department for Public Health, to develop model COVID-19 testing protocols for student-athletes and coaches that could be replicated across the state.
  • Adopt a regular reporting schedule for the Board of Control and the KBE/KDE to receive written reports, not less than bi-weekly, from the KHSAA that summarizes COVID-related issues KHSAA is dealing with (by sport, district and school) and how concerns are addressed as they arise.

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