Study: Active play, even while physical distancing, necessary for kids, families

Parents across the country are determining whether or not their children should participate in organized sports due to the coronavirus – and research has shown a broader distinction of those fears in terms of income gap, according to a recent study co-investigated by a Louisiana Tech assistant professor.

The study was part of a national survey by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative and Utah State University. According to the Aspen Institute’s website, the organization gathers individuals to improve actions taken in the real world. The study determined that only 53 percent of parents anticipate their child will return to sports activities at the same or a similar amount when current coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Dr. Jordan Blazo, an assistant professor in Louisiana Tech’s College of Education, was co-investigator on a study that determined that COVID-19-related restrictions could be widening the gap between those who have access to free play, organized training, and competitive training – and those who don’t.

“When we look at the data, it can be difficult to make direct comparisons, but one thing is clear: income has been a significant constraint for many families during the COVID-restrictions,” Blazo said. “This is where free play can really be impactful. Free play allows kids to stay active while also letting them be the creators of their experiences. So, while families may not be able to participate in private lessons, organized practices, or virtual training, they can still play, have fun, interact, and develop.”

Blazo, a faculty member of the department of kinesiology, said while some parents may have concerns about organized sports, now is the time to try something new.

“While families might not be able to participate in their typical activities, we should be aiming to stay active,” he said. “Physical activity is an important contributor to an effective immune system. So, try new things! There are lots of activities that families can engage in together that can strengthen their bonds while also practicing health habits and getting active.

“Backyard games are great for kids and parents alike. The rules can always be changed to fit their needs and there’s typically a lot more action compared to lines for drills. Also, free play activities encourage creativity and problem solving. So, everyone in the family stands to benefit.”

Dr. David Szymanski, department of kinesiology chair, said he was pleased to see the research Blazo was contributing to the information about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on youth sport participation across the country.

“Part of the results indicate how the pandemic raises fear by children and their parents about returning to play sports, whether it is organized sport or not,” Szymanski said. “This is completely understandable due to the health concerns for all involved. However, one item that is very important to stress is that all children need to  engage in sport and play because it significantly improves physical and mental health.”

Blazo said families could seek out active play and still social distance by exploring their local communities where appropriate.

“It’s hard to single out activities or opportunities for families with current Covid-restrictions in place,” he said. “Some are relatively obvious. Go for a family walk, hike, or bike ride. Play pick-up sports in the backyard like soccer, football, or baseball/softball. These are great opportunities because the family can be moderately active but also, they get to interact and talk about the day and current events.”

Ruston, for example, has several options available that families can experience now.

“For instance, Ruston recently completed another portion of the Rock Island Greenway which provides a great opportunity to get out of the house and be active, while also practicing social distancing,” Blazo said.

He added that local governments should see recreational infrastructure as a general investment for the community.

“When families have opportunities to be active, we know that families are more likely to adopt healthy lifestyles,” Blazo said. “This has related outcomes tied to physical and emotional health, but can also impact youth academic performance and community engagement. These outcomes don’t occur overnight, but the potential return on such an investment can be tremendous.”

For more information about the study, visit