Our findings show that junior memberships fell by 67% during lockdown, with a projected return at almost 30% less than pre-pandemic levels.
These impacts were felt more keenly in more deprived and ethnically diverse communities where participation opportunities are more heavily dependent on organised delivery.
Lisa Wainwright, Sport and Recreation Alliance CEO, said: “Getting children and young people out onto a pitch, into the water and moving in our leisure centres teaches them so many important life skills they can use now and in the future.
“These findings suggest that our younger generation are not expected to return as quickly or as strongly as adults which is likely to have significant ramifications on their physical, social and emotional development.
“It is therefore vital that children’s health and wellbeing is placed at the heart of our recovery efforts and every child is given every opportunity to be active again.
“A huge positive to emerge from the pandemic was the uptake in more ‘lifestyle’ activities, and this was evident in Sport England’s latest Active Lives Survey which reported a 10% increase in walking and 3% rise in cycling among children and young people.
“These activities are fantastic gateways to an active life, but we now have a collective responsibility to ensure that we capitalise on this participation opportunity, and more importantly, that it transitions to other sports and activities.
“While we’re aware restrictions have impacted everyone, we continue to be alarmed by the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on certain social groups.
“Disability sports are expecting almost half of their junior participants not to return while clubs with a more ethnically diverse membership were notably more pessimistic than others, estimating a 38% reduction in young members post-COVID.
“We must prioritise the creation of accessible and available opportunities for everyone. Only then will our younger generation be able to reconnect and recover.”
Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said: “These findings from the Sport and Recreation Alliance provide invaluable insight into the changes in young people’s habits and family lifestyles when it comes to organised community sport and recreation.
“We feared the impact of time away from friends, teams and regular activity on young people’s physical and mental health, but we are now seeing the barriers to returning to clubs as a lockdown legacy.
“The priority has to be a redoubling of efforts to build an ‘active recovery’ for all children, making it easy and fun for children and young people to get into sport.
“This means an absolute focus on physical education, after school sports clubs and summer schools which link seamlessly with accessible and inclusive community provision.
“Confirmation of the Primary PE and Sport Premium and the Government’s School Sport and Activity Action Plan would help enormously, ahead of a longer term joined-up national strategy for helping the young people of this country to be the most active and happiest in the world.”