Navigating the Uncertain Waters of Resuming Youth Sports and Activities
Patrick Schneider and Lee Grobstein have different roles in youth sports. Schneider coaches hockey in Minnesota while Grobstein owns and operates cheerleading and tumbling facilities in New Jersey and Georgia.
Despite their differences, the two are facing some similar challenges when it comes to resuming sports activities following the closure of sports nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Schneider and Grobstein on the front lines of returning to play in their respective states, spoke with them to gain insight, and allow them to share advice with others who are, or will soon be, attempting to resume their own youth sports activities.
Conducting Hockey Without the Contact
Schneider is both a hockey parent and a coach for the Minnesota Blades, a AAA hockey program located in the Twin Cities area. Undertaking both roles meant Schneider had a lot of work to do during the initial reopening process.
After Schneider and his 9-year-old son, Rylen, waited through months of no hockey, they got their chance to finally return to the ice. In the first phase of Minnesota’s reopening, hockey teams could have 20 kids maximum on the ice, playing in two groups of 10. That policy was recently changed, now allowing groups to be as large as 25 on the ice.
All of this comes without contact — a key component in hockey. This means there is a lot of focus on no-contact drills, which is just one challenge Schneider has faced so far.
: What have been some challenges you have run into when coming back to the ice?
Patrick Schneider: A lot of it happens with the rinks. Some opened earlier than others, some didn’t open on the first day they were allowed to open. There was less ice to choose from, so we weren’t getting very good ice times. Then, the rules change from rink to rink. Some rinks, you’re not allowed to use the locker rooms, and they vary on how early you can enter the facility and the ice. It’s tough as a parent and coach because you don’t have much time to prepare for practice. You have to be efficient.
SE: What guidance have you leaned on when trying to figure out how to navigate the different rules?
PS: It was a combination of the state department of health and Minnesota Hockey. Some of the instructions were vague and some things weren’t clear at first. It’s gotten easier as it’s gone on. We’ve talked to other coaches to see how they’re doing things.
SE: What are some of the biggest differences about your team or league model now compared to before COVID-19?
PS: With our team, the tournaments are usually spaced out throughout the summer. But now everyone is targeting August. So all these tournaments are happening at the same time — or weekend after weekend. We’re trying to fit them all in. We’re going to have a stretch where we have tournaments five of six straight weekends, starting in August.
SE: What have the conversations been like with the other parents in the program?
PS: They’ve all been really positive so far. The parents in our program are very passionate about the sport. They were excited to get their kids back on the ice.
SE: What advice do you have for other people in youth sports who are working through the reopening process?
PS: Just try to enjoy having hockey back. It was tough for my son not having hockey. It was probably a good break for all of us just to kind of reset. But we’re excited to get back. Just try not to take it too seriously and have some fun.
The next step for Schneider and those playing hockey in Minnesota is implementing intrasquad scrimmages. After that, teams will be allowed to play other opponents in the area.
A Tale of Two States
For the past 10 years, Grobstein has owned and operated STAR Athletics Cheer & Tumbling. Its first location is in Boonton, New Jersey, a town of about 9,000 residents, west of New York and Newark.
Embarking on a new venture this spring, Grobstein opened a second location in Winder, Georgia, a suburb east of Atlanta. The location opened in May.
Grobstein runs the two facilities, which operate under very different coronavirus-related limitations. The facility in Georgia has few restrictions his staff has to follow compared to the New Jersey location, which is a much different story. It’s something that has posed a challenge for the STAR staff.
SE: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in reopening, specifically in New Jersey?
Lee Grobstein: New Jersey was much more difficult (than Georgia). We got a little bit of a green light to open indoors in limited capacity. We allowed kids in for only 45 minutes. I had to prove to the health department that would not be in violation of the governor’s executive order. We had to convince people we were safe and opening in the best interest of our kids.
SE: How have you communicated with other New Jersey gym owners?
LG: We created a band of communication for other New Jersey gym owners for cheer. We kept updating each other on what the current situation was with the governor. It was a good way to chat with each other and keep up with what was going on.
SE: What resources have been helpful as you reopen?
LG: We’ve used GoMotion as a communication app that has virtual training, along with Zoom, to keep our members engaged. As for our facility, we have a new cleaning product. It uses a two-step process to bond to the surface and lasts for 30 days. That way, we don’t have to do as much everyday cleaning.
SE: What have been some of the biggest differences in what you’re doing now?
LG: We’re not allowed to do stunting, which is a huge component of what makes cheerleading what it is. We’ve done a lot of individualized training, jumping, tumbling, flexibility. It’s tough to assemble a competitive team without stunting. It’s like trying to build a soccer team and not be allowed to kick a ball.
SE: What have your conversations with parents been like?
LG: Ninety-nine percent are thrilled and eager to be back. They trust that they’re back and we’re doing the correct things, like distancing, temperature checks, masks. There’s a very high support rate right now.
SE: What advice would you give to others going through this process?
LG: You just need to know what the current executive order is in the state you’re in and what it says. As an owner and operator, be familiar and educated. You have to be ready to defend your own policies — make sure you’re in line with those and keeping customers safe.
You also want to be in constant communication with your members. They always want to know the next step. Even if you don’t have the answers, communicate with them what the next step is.
As for STAR, the facility in Georgia continues on with few restrictions. In New Jersey, however, the next steps result in increased capacity. With the competition season running from December to May, Grobstein said there’s hope and optimism those competitions will resume by then but he said he’s unsure about what those competitions will look like.