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The challenges COVID-19 poses for youth sports

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“Hello everyone, after a long time of reflection our son has decided to leave the club.”

This is the Whatsapp message that a young football player’s parents wrote in a parents’ group of a regional league football team recently. That’s the highest-level of football in Germany for players under the age of 17. The 14-year-old, who was the best striker on his team, decided to give up the sport. The decision came as a bombshell for both teammates and parents – including his own.

Professor Hans-Georg Predel of the German Sport University Cologne says the lack of training and play due to COVID-19 restrictions is likely to have been a factor in the youngster’s decision.

“This could also mean an end to his sporting career,” he told DW.

However, according to the professor, who is a researcher in physical activity and high-performance exercise in childhood and adolescence and as well as in biological adaptations in high-performance athletes, behavioral patterns among 10 and 18-year-olds are quite inconsistent.

“Young people… are searching for their personal path in life, and this implies a great willingness to try out new things,” Predel said.

COVID-19 has disrupted the sporting paths of young athletes all over the world, with many experiencing more than one lockdown, forcing training, leagues and tournaments to be placed on hold.

A lost generation

In Kenya, sports came to a complete standstill from the first lockdown in March until the beginning of October, when athletes in individual sports were able to return to training. In football, the Kenyan Premier League season only resumed play last month.

But young athletes weren’t able to return to the pitch even when the schools reopened in October – and this poses a huge problem.

“We basically lost almost a year, like a generation. And we in the sport industry know how critical it is for a certain age group to remain active and continue to train,” Kenyan sport journalist Carol Radull told DW, adding that this has also impacted the development of young players.

Unlike in Germany, there is no developed system of sports clubs in Kenya, so youth sports are the domain of the school system. Academies are reserved for those whose parents have the necessary means. So, according to Radull, the only path for an athlete to get noticed by professional scouts is through events and tournaments organized through the Kenyan school system, which includes sports like football, field hockey and swimming on its curriculum.

Germany’s new solutions

In Germany, which is currently grappling with a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the number of competitions taking place in youth sports has been drastically reduced.

“This is dramatic for the players because it is completely new to them. Before the pandemic their lives were completely different,” Friederike Kromp, head coach of Germany’s under-17 girls’ football team told DW.

Youth national teams draw their players from amateur clubs, via Germany’s regional associations.

To keep young players motivated during the lockdown, Kromp and coaches such as Nate Weiss, technical skills and individual trainer at FC Nuremberg, have developed virtual training sessions designed not only to improve football skills, but also focusing on issues like mental stability, social media and diet.

The sessions, which were originally developed exclusively for youth national team players, are now being made available to other youths in under the DFB’s (German Football Assocation) talent-development program known as the Fussball Stützpunkt. Thousands of young players from more than 300 high-performance centers around the country have been participating in the sessions.

“We started to bring the players together via Zoom or other video platforms to train together. Everyone can follow the training sessions from their own living rooms or backyards, and it’s worked very well,” Kromp said.

“We have to try to make the best of things and motivate the youngsters. We need to be there for them and also give them a reason for hope.”

Interaction inhibited

In the United States, youth sports resumed when schools reopened after the summer break. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to reduce the risk of infection were a relief for some youth sports clubs but also criticized by many.

While major youth soccer tournaments such as the Youth Soccer National League, the largest youth sports organization in the country, has postponed events in some states, others still allow sports activities.

Sporting Omaha FC established the first girls’ soccer development academy and remains the only one in Nebraska that has the highest level of play in youth soccer under the US Soccer Development Academy. The Omaha FC girls’ academy provides young talents with an environment in which they can develop their game. Its aim is to empower the young players to reach their full potential. Its tournaments regularly draw dozens of American scouts and Division 1 college coaches. Its staff are also involved in strategic planning of youth development and competitive platforms.

Alex Mason, director of coaching at Sporting Omaha FC, where training with masks is mandatory, told DW that “it is really hard for young players to read facial expressions when the coaches are wearing masks. So there are a lot of interactions that are wasted, and we are missing out with our younger players.”

Mason also says that the pandemic has had an impact in participation, particularly at the recreational level.

“I am not sure if we are going to lose an entire generation of players, but I know just from the recreation point of view, there has been a dropoff in registrations of at least 30%.”

The day after the pandemic will come 

While youth coaches, sports clubs and sports ministries look for solutions, some believe this year’s state of limbo will have long-term effects in amateur sport and national programs.

But Kromp, the German under-17 girl’s coach, argues that there are ways that these effects can be mitigated and she says it’s also important to recognize that nothing that none of the work youngsters do during a lockdown will be a waste of time.

“The day after the pandemic is over will come,” she stressed.

Read from source: https://www.dw.com/en/the-challenges-covid-19-poses-for-youth-sports/a-55977439

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Frenchman Yannick Bestaven clinches Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race in dramatic finish

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France’s Yannick Bestaven was crowned the winner of the Vendée Globe round-the-world solo yacht race on early Thursday morning after 80 days at sea.

The race concluded in dramatic fashion when competitor Boris Hermann collided with a fishing trawler on the home straight 160 km from port.

Frenchman Charlie Dalin was the first to cross the finish line first off Les Sables d’Olonne, western France, on Wednesday evening at 8.35 pm CET, surrounded by an armada of boats that glittered in red, green and blue.

The 36-year-old, who led the ranking for more than half of the course aboard his latest generation flying boat, had to wait to see if he would be declared the winner of the 2020 Vendée Globe.

France’s Yannick Bestaven was crowned the winner of the Vendée Globe round-the-world solo yacht race on early Thursday morning after 80 days at sea.

The race concluded in dramatic fashion when competitor Boris Hermann collided with a fishing trawler on the home straight 160 km from port.

Frenchman Charlie Dalin was the first to cross the finish line first off Les Sables d’Olonne, western France, on Wednesday evening at 8.35 pm CET, surrounded by an armada of boats that glittered in red, green and blue.

The 36-year-old, who led the ranking for more than half of the course aboard his latest generation flying boat, had to wait to see if he would be declared the winner of the 2020 Vendée Globe.

Two other competitors, the German Herrmann, who arrived third, and Bestaven, who came in fifth, also crossed the line were also in contention for the race.

Both skippers had time compensation in hand for helping to rescue competitor, Kevin Escoffier, whose yacht sank in heavy seas off Cape Horn on November 30.

These bonuses – six hours for Herrmann and 10 hours and 15 minutes for Bestaven – could only be taken into account once the line had been crossed.

This was Bestaven’s second attempt after he lasted just 30 hours in 2008. The 48-year-old, from La Rochelle, finished eight hours behind leader Dalin but snatched victory thanks to his time bonus.

“We go from total solitude to this party, these lights, these people who are there despite the complicated context,” Bestaven said after his victory.

“It’s a joy, I don’t realise yet what’s happening, I’m still in my race, even though it’s over. It’s a child’s dream come true.”

Dalin, who finished in 80 days, six hours, 15 minutes and 47 seconds – officially placed second followed by fellow Frenchman Louis Burton, who crossed the finish line second four hours later but came third overall.

Greeted by 300 volunteers, Dalin said: “For sure it has changed me, I don’t know in what way yet… it’s so many emotions, it’s incredible emotions, it’s emotions of a strength that I had never felt before…”

Third-placed Burton said: “It’s a great joy, a great pride to be among the first to cross this finish line. (It is) seven days less than four years ago [when he finished 7th], 75 days more than eight years ago because I had given up after five days”.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/28/frenchman-yannick-bestaven-clinches-vendee-globe-solo-round-the-world-race-in-dramatic-fin

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Football for Friendship keeps the ball running online

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Educating young generations goes beyond the classroom. But inspiring in children and teenagers the moral values that will guide them in their professional and personal lives is not always straightforward. Parents and educators have often nudged young people into playing team games, which have been recognised as effective tools to help them acquire important values while enjoying themselves.

For the last eight years, the Football for Friendship (F4F) platform has helped young people from across the world get together, share their love for football, and in the process acquire important ethical values, focusing on friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour, the building blocks of the F4F project.

In 2020, the social restrictions across the world that halted real-life football matches did not stop F4F, with over one million users taking part in this eighth season. The programme launched a new online game, F4F World, allowing young people to play football with peers anywhere. The game gives children the option of being players, coaches, or fans, and each role comes with different responsibilities and tasks. Players can apply to join their teams of choice, and as they advance in the game, they can become coaches, select other players, and set up their own team. The first F4F eWorld Championship brought together 32 teams of young players from 104 countries on the F4F World football simulator.

The game, available to download since early December, has received thumbs-up from many young players who praised how it connects players around the world, its availability on mobile and PC and the originality of its gameplay and character creation.

The online game keeping young people engaged with football throughout lockdowns, time away from school, and restricted social lives can help them maintain and build new connections with many other football afficionados from different cultures and backgrounds, while still strengthening their football skills away from the turf.

The variety of roles children and teenagers can choose from, the interactions needed to build teams, select players, engage with coaches and be part of the community provide a fertile ground for creating new friendships around their common passions for football.

An Online International Friendship Camp involves famous football players and F4F ambassadors that engage young people in team-building games and workshops that do not account for age, gender, nationality, race, or physical abilities. “Football for Friendship is a programme that brings together truly talented and motivated kids who are in love with football, giving them the opportunity to develop, learn more about each other and find new friends in other countries,” says Roberto Carlos, F4F Global Ambassador. “Many young football players all over the world dream of getting into Football for Friendship, and the universal human values promoted by the programme are really important for the children, for their future.”

The end of the season also brought for F4F the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the Most users on a football/soccer video hangout, with a 2.5-hour master class with live video feeds from France, Brazil, Russia, Uruguay, Pakistan, Ireland, Cyprus, Peru, India, Guyana and Spain being organized for children from over 100 countries.

By learning and following the rules of F4F World, young players also become more responsible for their online behaviour; and while football itself teaches fair play, engaging in games and trainings with other children and teenagers, as well as with coaches from different cultural backgrounds, races, and beliefs encourages participants to be fair and treat everyone equally and honourably.

Beyond practical skills, F4F and in particular, the new online game, helps young people remain motivated to win, devoted to the game and to their teams, and continue a traditional game even through difficult social and economic times.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/22/football-for-friendship-keeps-the-ball-running-online

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Russian city of Kazan to host 2022 Special Winter Olympics after Sweden pulls out

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The countdown has begun for the Special Olympics, World Winter Games, which are set to kick off in Kazan, Russia in one year.

More than 2,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from over 100 countries will compete.

Kazan jumped in to host the games at the last minute after Sweden pulled out due to financial reasons – a controversial decision given that Russia is currently serving a ban from all major sporting events.

In December, Russia’s ban was reduced to two years from four by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after its anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant for manipulating laboratory data handed over to investigators in January 2019.

”We are as a country ready for a bigger message on inclusion and as Special Olympics International is not a signatory of the World Anti Doping Code, therefore we were in a good place to come to Russia with the World Games,” Natalia Vodianova, an international Russian-born model and member of Special Olympics International Board of Directors, told Euronews.

“My younger sister Oksana was born with an intellectual disability. There is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of miscommunication about the abilities of people with special needs. Therefore, I hope that the world Games will bring more clarity and break some stigmas around possibilities and opportunities for people with special needs like my sister,” she added.

After hosting the World Aquatics Championships in 2015 and the FIFA World Cup three years later, Kazan is no stranger to big events.

Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics is a global movement aimed at ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. It offers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.

Special Olympics Russia, which has been active for more than two decades, has 128 thousand athletes taking part in sports and competitions across the country.

But this represents just 4% of the estimated three million people with intellectual disabilities in Russia, and Vodianova is hoping the Special Olympics winter games coming to the country will mean more people can benefit from the initiative in the future.

 

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/22/russian-city-of-kazan-to-host-2022-special-winter-olympics-after-sweden-pulls-out

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