Children bid goodbye to sport: A parent, coach and chairman recount their final experiences before lockdown

Katrina Cliffe recalls taking her daughters Stevie, 14, and Jaime, 9, to their last ice-skating club practice in Bradford

Given that ice rinks were one of the last sports venues to reopen after the first lockdown, I’m not convinced my daughters will be ice-skating again in 2020. It’s why their last session earlier this week ahead of the country re-entering into lockdown was extra special. All the skaters wore Christmas jumpers, they trained to festive music and each received a gift from the coaches, who tried their best to reinforce the message that we will all meet again on the other side.

Skaters Stevie (14) and Jaime (9) of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, pictured with their mother Katrina Cliffe

Katrina Cliffe (right), beside her two daughters, fears for youth ice-skating’s participating numbers of the second lockdown


My youngest daughter was ecstatic about returning to skating in mid-August, but she was also nervous. Last week, she was delighted to finally nail this loop jump that has evaded her over the past two months and she was like a whole different person. But she’s already stressing about whether she’ll be able to do it when she gets back on the ice. It’s heartbreaking to see.

We need to get out of this mindset that only outdoor sports should continue for children during the second lockdown. If we don’t, we run the risk of alienating a whole generation of young people – from ice-skaters to swimmers. With ice-skating being a predominantly female sport, we’re also alienating an entire gender, too. A lot of the mums at our club who have older daughters are really concerned that going into another lockdown will ultimately push them into leaving the sport. They’re already at an age where girls are known to disengage with sport and for some, I really think this could be the final nail in the coffin. 

Billie Graham, West Essex U13s football coach, describes how her players have prepared for another period apart

On Wednesday night, we had our last training session with the Under 13 girls’ team before lockdown. It was absolutely devastating. We tried to make the best of a bad situation so I gave each of the girls a little each of lockdown love – bath salts, hot chocolate, marshmallows, a face mask, and a lip balm – a feel-good package to get them through.

We had a fun session, but they asked a million questions. Questions that neither I – nor their teachers or adults – have the answers for. That’s pretty scary when they rely on adults to guide and lead the way.

I’m a volunteer, I coach four times a week unpaid – like many other coaches in the grassroots we do it for the love of it. We’ve adapted to the restrictions – behind the scenes we spent hours in July and August prepping to make training and matchdays Covid secure: zoom calls, paperwork, risk assessments, support bubbles, social distancing, disinfecting equipment before and after every session. Even having to work around the toilets being closed – which is difficult with teenage girls, but we made it work. We’ve done everything so that these girls can still play sport, at an age where they notoriously drop out. And it’s all just been taken away from us without any thought. They just banned it.

Girls football coach Billie Graham who is supporting our Keep Kids active campaign

Billie Graham thinks the Government policy is ‘very unfair’


Most of the girls on the team are all in the same school bubble. Most of them spend Monday to Friday with each other at school, and yet they cannot spend an hour and a half with me for training. The girls kept asking me why, they feel it is very unfair. And I agree with them.

In football we are taught we can only “control the controllables”. So I made the last session as fun as I could and we talked about how we can make the best of the lockdown – with the girls writing down positive ideas on a whiteboard. But I really hope it is sooner than four weeks. For their mental health, wellbeing, fitness, the social aspect, everything. It’s so important. And for me as well. I love coaching and it’s been taken from me, too. I hope the policy is reviewed and changed, and that we are heard.

Patrick Neale, chairman of Chipping Norton Rugby Club in Oxfordshire, recounts the last time the club’s young players came together  

What a scene it was at Chipping Norton Rugby Club. All morning last Sunday our pitches were filled with the sight and sound of some 300 kids, aged between six and 16, loving their rugby. I have to admit, though, there was a touch of fatalism in the air. We’d all heard the rumours of some sort of impending lockdown. And we started planning for what we thought would be the worst-case scenario: perhaps painting lots of circles on the grass to keep social distance, no contact at all during play, parents asked to stay away. But when it happened, what we couldn’t understand is why children’s sport played outdoors was to be curtailed altogether. It’s not going to do anything to help stop the spread of the virus. All it is going to do is pointlessly harm youngsters who have already had a miserable year.

I appreciate that the difference between schools and clubs is that, in the classroom, kids are kept in their bubbles, whereas at the rugby they mix with those from other schools. But we had worked tirelessly over the summer to ensure everyone was kept safe. We brought in staggered start times, one-way systems, we insisted on sanitising hands.

Sunday morning at Chipping Norton RFC

Sunday morning at Chipping Norton RFC

Rugby clubs are just about the last place where we talk about our emotions. But since lockdown people have really opened up about how difficult it was for their children to be separated from the sport they get so much from. The smiles on the kids’ faces that first time they all came back playing will live long in the memory. We’ll need that memory to keep us all going through the darkness of the next few weeks. 

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