Covid: Return of sport in Wales a 'big stress reliever'

By Ffion Wynne
BBC News

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image copyrightFamily photo
image captionBecca, Liv and their mum Lisa are all keen hockey players and trained in their garden during the repeated lockdowns

After months in lockdown, being able to play hockey again was a relief for teenagers Becca and Liv.

The sisters, from Newport, had to stop training with their teammates when Wales went back into lockdown in December.

After rules changed, allowing organised sport for under-18s to resume from 27 March, the pair sad they were beginning to feel "a sense of normality again".

Becca, 17, said sport has been "such a big stress reliever".

With group training paused last March when the pandemic hit, and stopped again during the last lockdown in December, there had been concerns about the impact on children's health and on the sport stars of the future.

There have also been concerns from sporting bodies that a delay for adults to be able to meet outside to train was damaging to people's physical and mental health.

Groups of up to 30 people will be allowed to meet outside for organised activities from 26 April.

Sport Wales said young people had shown "patience" in following safety guidance while training together and this had helped push the adults' dates forward.

image copyrightFamily photo
image captionLiv has loved being back in training with her friends

Olivia - known as Liv - and Becca have played cricket for Wales in their age groups for a number of years and were preparing to play hockey for their country when coronavirus hit.

From training four to five times a week with their teams, the sisters had to get creative, doing Zoom classes in their garden, recording their progress along the way.

Becca, who had been due to make her Wales hockey debut last year before it was cancelled, said not going to training had been hard to get used to.

"It brings me so much, the social side of it like seeing my friends, keeping my fitness up, but it's also such a big stress reliever from school work and other things," she said.

image copyrightFamily photo
image captionBecca was due to play her first international match against Scotland in 2020, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic

Over the Easter weekend, the sisters went to their first sessions with their Wales age group squads after a long winter in lockdown.

Liv, 14, said she found being away from her friends hard and getting back with the squad "meant a lot".

She was forced to self isolate three times at home before the December lockdown after Covid cases were confirmed at her school.

At one point she only went back to the classroom for one day, before another case was confirmed and she had to isolate all over again.

"Knowing that the rules legally allowed me to go to school, see my friends and go to hockey but I was sat at home, that was really hard," she said.

"[Getting back to training] has given me back the social aspect of my life that lockdown took away from me, and it just makes me really happy."

media captionLast year, local lockdowns meant some children and young people could not train with their clubs

Their dad Jonathan, a hockey coach, said there was concern among coaches that many youngsters would not go back to organised sports after so long away from their team mates.

"Even before Covid, studies show that at around 15/16 years old, girls' dropout rates are high," he said.

"The elite players will always come, but for those who come for the social event, I do worry that a lot won't come back... if they're not there, how can we work as coaches to retain the players at such a crucial time in their life?"

However, Jonathan, who coaches under-15 and under-18 girls, said the numbers at their first session back had been really encouraging.

In October, the Welsh government changed rules, making travel for children to take part in sport a "reasonable excuse" to journey out of local lockdown areas, amid fears for children's wellbeing while being unable to train with their clubs.

Jonathan said his daughters were "lucky" because they had room to train in the garden and some gym equipment, but it had been hard for them to stay motivated.

"The girls have always been grateful, but doing the sessions online and by yourself just isn't the same," he said.

Sport Wales said young people had shown "patience" in following safety guidance when they were allowed to start playing together again.

"It's because of this that re-opening dates are being brought forward for gyms, leisure centres and organised outdoor activities for adults.

"While we understand that for some this still isn't quickly enough, we're glad that we are steadily getting back to the sport and activities that we love."

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