Youth soccer clubs urge safe return to play amid mental health concerns

A local soccer organization is part of a provincewide effort urging the Ontario government to allow kids to get back on the field as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out.

Soccer Ontario initiated the effort to reduce the mental health impacts the lack of physical activity has had on young athletes.

A survey of parents across 17 organizations in the province garnered more than 3,500 responses over a four-day period, showing that one in five kids noted feelings of depression over the past 13 months.

Whitecaps London is part of the effort. Its president Abbi Lezizidis says the kids need a safe avenue to be active.

Read more: Tillsonburg golf course charged under Reopening Ontario Act

“When we talk about these numbers that we have, this isn’t just London, this is so consistent across the province,” said Lezizidis.

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“It is crazy and staggering how consistent the worry is, the stress and anxiety levels, and the depression that is seriously starting to really hit our members, and I think I can say that’s all youth sports, not just soccer.”

Lezizidis says they have been patient throughout the many challenges of the pandemic, navigating through several disruptions in play, with safety always top of mind.

“At the end of the day we all know COVID is real, we’re not sitting here as leaders of organizations sending the message that we don’t believe in what is going on,” he said.

“We know it’s real, but we also know that we need to find a medium ground where there is a space for a practical, organized return to play, to keep the kids safe, to keep the families safe, but also help get these [case] numbers down.”
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In late March, Ontario Soccer sent a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, which outlined an enhanced return to play protocol.

Read more: Ottawa councillors write to Ford asking for golf, tennis to return

“We’re hoping to get some type of response — the letter that was sent was phenomenally written, incredibly detailed, with lots of data from both paediatricians and psychologists,” said Lezezidis.

“We’re looking for some help here, something to hope for, even if they say June 20th is when you’ll be allowed back, that gives us time to plan and make it happen and do it right.”

More than a month later the letter has gone unanswered, but Lezizidis stresses they are ready to go whenever they get the green light.

“We do have a plan, we are ready to rock it, as soon as we are allowed to make it happen we are going to be back out on those fields,” he said.

“We can’t wait to hear those laughs, those smiles, the giggles, happen again soon.”

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