During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been much discussion globally about the negative impact the pandemic has had on the participation and engagement of students across physical activity programmes. Data suggests that in many countries motivation and enthusiasm has dropped and many children are stepping away from physical activity and organised sport, choosing instead to stay at home. This ‘new norm’ has exacerbated concerns about the increase of sedentary lifestyles and the subsequent impact this has on health and wellbeing.
In Singapore, we have been extremely fortunate to have been able to carry out the majority of our wellness programmes since August 2020, albeit with restrictions and measures.
As a department, we wanted to compare student participation in Sports and Wellness for Life opportunities at UWCSEA East, in 2019/2020 (S1&2) and in 2020/2021(S1&2). We were curious to see if there was a significant difference in participation rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. 2020/2021– We reduced the number of representative teams in each sport due to the cancellation of competitive fixtures. However, the total participation numbers for each sport was still relatively high with students training in larger squads.
We believe the removal of teams had a direct, positive impact on students’ enthusiasm and commitment as feedback suggested it took away the pressure of trying to make the A team (which potentially requires cuts etc). The attention thus shifted to broadening the focus of the sessions to work on fundamentals, core values, and physical literacy.
We reprogrammed the offering in Term 1 so that students could participate in both Season 1 and Season 2 sports throughout the term. We reduced the number of sessions for each sport but students had a more diverse range of sports to choose from. This reduced participation numbers slightly for each specific sport, but increased engagement, development and motivation throughout the term as well as positive feedback from students specific to multiple sport participation.
2. 2020/2021 – Our community club programmes are held in the evenings and on weekends throughout the year and we observed high participation across our community sports and wellness programmes for Season 1 and 2. This demonstrates that students are continuing to enjoy the social and physical activities programmes we are offering in the evenings and at weekends.
Our students were happy to participate late into the evenings and over the weekend, albeit in restricted group sizes and with modified interaction.
The reduction in the weekly sports programme numbers (refer to the above point) could also have contributed to the increase in participation in community engagement events. For example, during 2019/2020 we had 25 students participating in our community volleyball programme compared with 95 students this year 2020/2021. The community programme has expanded, even during the Covid period, and will continue to grow as we see the development of year-long cross-campus programmes.
3. 2020/2021 – It was noted however that there was a negative impact on our cross-campus sports. This was especially evident in swimming and gymnastics, both requiring multiple hours of training. Lockdown in 2020 directly affected motivation levels in these high-performance programmes. However, on return to campus and to training, we have observed that the dropout rate has been low amongst the highly committed student group.
Overall, our students have demonstrated great resilience and commitment to our sports programmes during the pandemic, we believe that this supports the idea of the intrinsic benefits of physical activity at keeping motivation and enthusiasm levels high.
Recalibrating our focus on ‘beyond fixtures’ within the community has also helped to continue this purpose-led and values-driven programme.
We are optimistic that the future is bright, where we are building healthy young adults who see the value in wellness and physical activity, even if competition remains absent from the programmes for an extended period of time.
Many kids have lost interest in sports altogether, and getting them back will take work. According to a survey conducted by the Aspen Institute, three out of ten kids who used to participate in sports no longer wish to. “Staying at home is the new normal,” said Travis Dorsch, Director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University, who helped conduct the survey.