Sport, Recreation, Youth, COVID and Vaccines
The world, our country being no exception, has been preoccupied for a year now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Understandably, much of the attention has been focused on certain aspects of health – the casualties, combating the virus, vaccines and recovery, and on the economic damage it continues to cause globally.
Yet there is a much-overlooked and equally vital aspect to it. Recently some of our local health professionals in a television discussion raised the issue of the effects on mental health. It was raised in the context of the restrictive measures reluctantly put in place which have seriously constrained physical interaction and activity.
Though the discussion focused on the population at large, it inevitably raises the issue of the most active section of our population, the youth and children, who after all represent the future of our nation. Our concerns for them have largely been expressed in relation to their safety, their education and our ability to provide for their needs.
Unfortunately their needs stretch beyond those matters. We have to factor in the vital areas of recreation and sport, just as important as food and education, and which can have bearing on their mental development and mental health. Even parents, in their anxieties over the future of their children under the circumstances occasioned by the pandemic, often fail to recognize these areas as being of critical importance.
In the absence of regular schooling, the physical activity of this section of the population is automatically constrained. Not having to get to school, there is the tendency to arise later and not to have to begin the day with a hustle to get ready and leave for school. Classes are at home and online again, curtailing the activity which would normally be associated with having to travel to school and on the school compound itself.
Then there is the physical activity associated with school – exercise, organised games and their own improvised interaction with classmates. On a broader level, for much of last year, organized sport could not proceed as planned. We are about to enter the third month of this year in a school term which would normally be characterised by the biggest mobilisation of youth in sport, the Inter-School Sports which involves not just the mass of athletes and spectators at the finals themselves, but activities in every school, every district as they build up to the grand occasion. Have we paused to reflect on what effect this can have, or indeed is having throughout the school population? Ironically, now that we have been provided with a world-class track at Diamond, our youth are at home playing computer games rather than testing their physical and mental capabilities on the track.
There is also the absent social interaction, so vital for the development of children and young people. The health protocols by themselves preclude much social interaction outside family so except for telephone and computer exchanges, children do not even have the opportunity to go to Sunday school for instance, but also to participate in organised social activities.
It is difficult to quantify what effect this can have on a generation of young people, missing a year and counting of social activities outside the home. What is clear is that this cannot be a healthy development and must be factored in to our COVID plans. Adults are very vocal with their economic demands and health fears, but except for the education of our children, little is heard of these equally vital matters and how we must address them.
Our nation’s future is at stake and surely this, more than anything else, should motivate us to do everything we can to bring our COVID situation back to some semblance of normalcy. We must embrace and practice the health protocols as stipulated; quarantine and isolate as directed; and of course play our part in helping our country achieve herd immunity by getting vaccinated.