Returning to sport: The impact of the pandemic on local clubs

by Laura Rudland coaching

The return of sport has been eagerly anticipated by so many of us over the last 12 months and has been welcomed with open arms as the lockdown restrictions have gradually eased. Speaking to local clubs has shown just how important sport is in so many people’s lives for both their physical and mental health.

Returning to sport hasn’t been without its challenges for clubs. The additional hours of planning and risk assessments alongside the ever-changing guidance can seem like a daunting task. Understandably there is also a level of anxiety some participants feel about returning to training and competition following months of very little social contact.

UK Coaching found in their latest research that the pandemic has impacted the nation’s mental well-being, with nearly 9 in 10 coaches (87%) concerned about the poor mental and physical health of participants. Additionally, nearly half of all coaches (47%) said one of the biggest challenges currently facing them is motivating people to return to sport and physical activity.

We spoke to the following 3 clubs from Bristol to hear about their experience of return to sport post lockdown.

Ashley Down Old Boys RFC (AD)

  • Sport: Rugby
  • Number of members: 150 children, 40 Females & 50 Males
  • First session back after lockdown: The children returned on Easter Sunday, Ladies 1st April & Men 30th March

Premier Romans Netball Club (PR)

  • Sport: Netball
  • Number of members: 120
  • First session back after lockdown: 14th April 2021

Westbury & United Banks Hockey Club (W&U)

  • Sport: Hockey
  • Number of Members: 70+
  • First session back after lockdown: The club returned to training on 31st March

How have you found the return to sport post lockdown?

  • AD: It is a welcome relief.  I have been incredibly overwhelmed with how hungry people are to be back. The chaos has provided members time to rest old injuries and gain a bigger appetite to return.
  • PR: Exciting, but stressful. There are a lot of things to check and read through. We use a number of venues to train, so reading through all those risk assessments and writing up mitigation plans for all our venues, across both seniors and juniors has been very time consuming.
  • W&U: I’ve been looking forward to it as I’ve not only missed the exercise but talking with friends and club mates before and after training and matches. I’ve felt happier and enjoyed having some time for me again.

What has been the best part about the return of sport for your club?

  • AD: Seeing the smiles on peoples faces, people able to express themselves in an activity they love and giving people that strong sense of purpose back.
  • PR: Getting to play the sport we love with some of our closest friends.
  • W&U: Seeing people enjoying our sport again, and catching up with people you haven’t been able to see for a long time.

Have your numbers/interest in the club increased or decreased since before the pandemic?

  • AD: On the whole, numbers have increased.  There are a few that haven’t returned yet but that has been far outweighed by new members joining.
  • PR: Stayed the same.
  • W&U: Our numbers for training have improved . We have had some old faces reappear which has been good as well as some new joiners.

Have you found people have been anxious about returning to sport and if so how have you as a club dealt with worries and concerns?

  • AD: We recognise each member as an individual.  There are some that are more anxious than others but I feel the measures we have in place make us as safe as we can be.  We are very transparent as a club and continually striving to be better. I am yet to hear of anyone with major concerns but am happy to listen, empathise and react accordingly.
  • PR: Everyone was really excited about getting back on court. A few people were anxious about catching a ball for the first time in a while, so we made sure the first session back was a fun session, with a mixture of fun games and simple netball drills.
  • W&U: There are some people who are concerned, and we have not pressured anyone to come back before they are ready. We have a COVID Officer who has been super since this all started over a year ago. He has been keeping on top of the guidelines from both government and England Hockey, to ensure we are following protocol. We have been particularly concerned to ensure our Walking Hockey players are comfortable; most of whom are retired so have wanted to wait for their second vaccines.

Have you accessed any of the funding that’s been available for the recovery of clubs and if so how important has that been for your return?

  • AD: We have been fortunate to access LA funding grants and have recently been awarded with a grant for some flood lighting.  This has been critical to helping facilitate our growth (particularly in the ladies’ section).

What have been the barriers for returning post lockdown?

  • AD: Unable to use our clubhouse facilities as we would normally and general Covid restrictions.
  • PR: Booking venues for our juniors has been the biggest challenge so far.
  • W&U: Fear of another lockdown, the details of how we can operate within the guidelines, ensuring that members are kept up to date with the latest information when the information and guidance is changing so frequently.

When are you hoping to get back to fixtures?

  • AD: The men played an inter club game on Sat 24th April and the first fixture against external opposition happened on 15th May, The first ladies game happened on 25th April & Juniors 16th May.
  • PR: ASAP but likely, September 2021.
  • W&U: We have some friendlies lined up with other neighbouring hockey clubs where people can travel on their own directly to the match. We also have some summer league matches as well in the coming months.

Any other comments around your experience of return to sport post lockdown?

  • AD: Just soooooooo glad to be back and see smiles (when we aren’t wearing masks!)

The vital work that coaches deliver is being understood and appreciated more than ever, with over two thirds (69%) of the nation believing it is important for society to value the role that coaches and instructors play in keeping local communities active.

As the restrictions continue to ease hopefully more people will feel confident to return or start a new sport. If you or any of your participants are feeling anxious about returning to sport you can visit the following websites for advice on how to make people feel comfortable about the return to sport and physical activity:

For information and support about return to play including guidance for documentation prior to re starting visit our webpage here.

Sport England have put together: Five simple ways you can help people return to sport and physical activity specifically for those anxious to return following the pandemic.

Learn more about the clubs we spoke to by visiting their websites:

Ashley Down Old Boys RFC

Premier Romans Netball Club 

Westbury & United Banks Hockey Club 

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about the author

Laura Rudland

Marketing and Administration Officer

T: 0117 32 81881