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Pandemic has created ‘sport-lockdown generation’ of kids

Ian Royall and Laura Placella, May 2, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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Pandemic restrictions have meant a big hit to the development of basic motor skills for Australian kids who were denied community and school sport during the pandemic. Picture: AAP Image/James Ross media_cameraPandemic restrictions have meant a big hit to the development of basic motor skills for Australian kids who were denied community and school sport during the pandemic. Picture: AAP Image/James Ross


Reading level: green

Pandemic restrictions have created a lockdown generation of Covid kids who can’t catch or throw, new research has found.

In Victoria, Australia’s most locked down state, more than half of all five to nine-year-olds, or 82,000 children, quit playing community sport, the Victoria University report revealed.

Sports academics Professor Rochelle Eime and Professor Hans Westerbeek said Covid lockdowns caused more than 231,000 participants to quit the state’s top 10 sports – Australian football, basketball, cricket, football, gymnastics, hockey, netball, sailing, swimming and tennis.

Keeping out kids playing sport, despite challenge of Covid media_cameraVictoria’s Pulteney Grammar School students are getting back to school sports like cricket. From left, Laura Fitzpatrick, 17, Larissa Henshall, 17, Ruby de Broughe, 17. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

The researchers said the two-year loss of community sport and school PE represented a large part of a child’s lifetime, and it was where they developed motor skills.

“Beyond learning to hop, skip, jump, run, catch and throw, these places teach children important social skills and help them develop broader physical literacy*,’’ they said.

“Unfortunately, this large group of young children – call them the ‘sport-lockdown generation’ – will struggle to catch up.’’

The research also found the hardest-hit clubs for low participation rates were in country Victoria, which they found surprising as sports clubs were often the social hub of a community.

Winter Sports media_cameraSiblings Finn, Lily and Hugh Thearle are looking forward to an undisrupted season of winter sports that hopefully won’t be affected by any further Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: Richard Dobson

Professors Eime and Westerbeek said clubs needed a revolutionary* rethink about how community sport was organised to get members back.

“They need to consider offering opportunities to bring players together with the aim of helping them develop their skills, rather than emphasising premiership wins.’’

A new post-pandemic model was vital they said, “instead of leaving a legacy* of young people who never learned to catch or throw’’.

The researchers will present the report’s key findings at an online VicSport forum on Thursday 5 May.

FIREBIRDS NETBALL CLINIC media_cameraResearchers suggest a new post-pandemic model is needed to help kids catch up on skills they have not been able to develop throughout the pandemic, thanks to the lengthy suspension of community and school sports. Picture: Alix Sweeney

It comes as new University of Melbourne research reveals lockdowns themselves had little to no effect on the mental health of older Victorian teens.

The study found Victorian women with a partner and dependent children had the greatest decline in mental health during Covid 2020 lockdowns, when compared to the rest of Australia.

“The adverse* mental health effects were largely seen in women with dependent children, who are likely to have borne the burden of the additional workload associated with working from home, as well as caring for and educating children,” the study states.

Teens aged between 15 to 19 also recorded a decline in their mental health, according to the study’s survey data.

FIREBIRDS NETBALL CLINIC media_cameraTippah Dwan and Kim Jenner keep their eye on the ball in Townsville, Queensland. Sport is great for developing motor skills and physical fitness, but it’s important for building important social and psychological skills at the same time. Picture: Alix Sweeney

However, researchers say this was “not a change attributable*” to lockdowns since both teens in Victoria and teens across Australia, many of whom were relatively free of restrictions, experienced the same decline in 2020.

“Although not a focus of the current analysis, (there was) a substantial decline in the mental health of youth and young adults in 2020 compared with 2011–19,” the study states.

The University of Melbourne research claims to be the first of its kind to provide “robust*” evidence to independently associate lockdown with mental health outcomes.


  • physical literacy: the skills, knowledge and behaviours that build the ability and motivation to lead active lives
  • revolutionary: involving or creating a complete or drastic change
  • legacy: what is left behind, the effects of something lasting into the future
  • adverse: having a bad, negative or harmful effect on something
  • attributable: the likely cause of something
  • robust: strong, powerful, sturdy


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  1. How many Victorian children in which age range quit community sport due to pandemic restrictions?
  2. What are Victoria’s top 10 sports?
  3. Where were the hardest-hit clubs for low participation rates?
  4. What else does sport teach kids other than skills like skipping, jumping and running?
  5. Which group had the greatest decline in mental health in the pandemic?


1. Fundamental motor skills
Covid lockdowns will have many long-term effects as we resume normal life again. This article highlights the lack of some motor skills for those children who didn’t get PE lessons at school and had no community sport to help teach them the basics.

To reinforce your own fundamental motor skills, complete the following series of activities to do with a tennis ball or other small ball.

Once completed, give yourself a score out of 10 for your own performance.

Throw and catch in the air x 10 (preferred hand)

Throw and catch in the air x 10 (non-preferred hand)

Throw in air and clap 3 times x 10

Throw in air, turn around and catch x 10

Bounce and catch x 10 (preferred hand)

Bounce and catch x 10 (non-preferred hand)

Bounce under leg x 10

Throw and catch to a partner x 20

Score /10 – how would you rate yourself: Excellent Very Good Good Average

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Health and Physical Education

2. Extension
What ways do you think the government, sports clubs and other agencies could encourage kids to get back into community sport to help teach them the skills they may have missed?

What sports do you play or would you like to get involved in?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education; Critical and Creative Thinking

Dear Covid …
A lot of you reading the article are probably saying, “Yes, that was me”, or, “I missed out on this sport …”

It’s time to vent a little and tell Covid what effect it had on your life, even if you never caught the illness.

Write a letter addressed to Dear Covid, then tell it exactly what you think and feel about what you missed out on.

If you actually had a really good time during the last few interrupted years, you can share that too.

You may like to start by making a list of positives and negatives. Pick your biggest three of each to share in your letter.

Start your letter by explaining why you are writing it – what is it about? Then use paragraphs to separate each effect, explaining each one in detail and what that impact meant for you and the people in your life.

Include your thoughts and feelings, but stick to the facts.

Challenge yourself to extend some of your sentences with connectives like because, however, but, so etc.

Read it aloud to yourself to edit and up-level, then share your letter to a classmate or a family member.

Extra Reading in sport