With national lockdown restrictions due to be lifted fully on 21 June, the Wessex Young Athletes Track & Field League is working hard to ensure the safe and progressive return to full competition for thousands of children.
Cheryl Angell, treasurer and welfare lead for the League, is mindful of the impact the social distancing restrictions may have had on young people over the last year.
"We’ve got to help our children and young athletes fall back in love with athletics and give them the opportunities that they’ve so badly missed over the last year," she said.
"It’s about giving them the positivity and confidence they need to get out there and give it a go, but at the same time we need to think carefully about their mental health. A year out of athletics is a huge amount of time that we’re never going to get back. There will be some children going to venues and thinking 'oh my goodness, there are so many people here, how am I going to cope?'"
A big part of helping the sport’s youngest competitors from under-11s through to under-20s experience a successful return to track and field is by ensuring their environment is safe and welcoming.
Wessex Young Athletes Track & Field League will be distributing the grant money it has received from England Athletics, through its Competitions Fund, to its member clubs to ensure the safe staging of events for thousands of children and teenagers across Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Wiltshire.
"We’ve bought face coverings for those running the events as well as hand sanitisers and wipes if the children are using the same piece of equipment, and we need somebody to monitor it," said Cheryl.
"We try to provide our clubs with at least four meetings a year, depending on where they are and who can host, with at least four teams at each event. We have anything between 24 to 26 clubs who wouldn’t be able to put on events without having things like face coverings and hand sanitisers in place. By providing them at each event, it’s one less thing for them to worry about."
"It’s about trying to bring all the young athletes together to do what they love. A lot of clubs we’ve spoken to are finding it quite difficult at the moment. Most of them hire a venue and obviously there are some venues not allowing people in because of the restrictions."
At Cheryl’s athletics club, Team Kennet, based in Newbury, they have a COVID-19 strategy in place which sees parents staying in their cars whilst their children train and compete. People aren’t allowed to wander freely during an event whilst entrances and exits are clearly marked.
"Athletics has always been a family affair and there will be lots of children wanting their parents to watch them,” she added. “I think the quicker we get that into motion the better, but then we also have to be careful when it comes to officials and be sensitive to their needs particularly those of an older generation and making sure they feel safe too."
Photo credits and permission gained from Team Kennet and New Forest Juniors
'Competition' is one of the five key priority areas which sits at the heart of the new England Athletics’ 12-year strategy for athletics and running – ‘Athletes and runners at the heart’. We are committed to supporting, regulating and working in partnership to influence a modern, safe, inclusive, and fun competition structure and pathway across all disciplines that enhance the experience for athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators at all levels of the sport.
To find out more including what our other four key priority areas are, click here to read about our new strategy.