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Psychiatrist, coaches emphasize health benefits and importance of youth sports during pandemic

A psychiatrist at the University of Toledo says sports give kids structure and discipline while also helping them to develop skills for the real world.

TOLEDO, Ohio — With Gov. Mike DeWine giving sports the go-ahead for the fall, student-athletes have renewed hope in the chance to live a healthier life during the pandemic. 

Justin Edgell, the athletic director at St. Francis de Sales says not having sports has impacted the mental health of student-athletes, but the new order is changing that. 

Athletes at the west Toledo school began training back on June 8. Edgell is calling it a much need outlet.

"There's a lot of anxiety, a lot of frustration, uncertainty right now. And athletics, COVID or no COVID, is an avenue for them to come out and not only burn off that energy but to socialize," said Edgell. 

According to psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Kelly, the Vice Chair of Education for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toledo, it's also a way for the athletes to keep their mental health in check.

"Sports can give kids structure, discipline. They have routines that they can follow and through all of that, they build skills that can then use in the classroom and beyond," said Dr. Kelly. 

Dr. Kelly says sports can prompt athletes to also develop interpersonal relationships and social skills as they go out in the real world.

Coaches say sports aren't just about winning on the field. Even after the Friday night lights dim, sports remain deeply tied to the personal identity of student-athletes.

"It's indescribable. It's their entire life. When you ask these kids who they are, they start off with 'I play football. I run cross country. I play soccer'," said Taylor Frendt, the Head Athletic Trainer at St. Francis de Sales. "So it's part of their identity, it's part of their life, their culture and who they are as a person." 

Frendt says parents actually started to see the side effects on their children when training stopped because of COVID-19.

"Parents complained that they wouldn't sleep, they wouldn't eat because their normal physical activity was taken away from them, so they wouldn't get exhausted," said Frendt. 

But now, many athletes are back to their usual selves as they look forward to playing fall sports.

At St. Francis, specialists are on stand-by, just in case, to help students who may need aid with their mental health.

"This green light - it definitely makes people happy who really enjoy sports and take a lot of pride in it. The word of caution, though, is to temper it. Remember that we still live in the world right now of coronavirus," said Dr. Kelly. 

"Kids wanna be here. Families want to be here. We were all shelter in place for almost three months. Couldn't see family, couldn't see friends and this, this is our community," said Edgell.