MILLIONS OF HOURS OF LOST PLAY FOR CHILDREN

September 13, 2021

As we pass the 18-month mark of Covid-19 in Canada, we can’t ignore the challenges that may face youth as we attempt to ‘return to normal’, and the long-term implications of what has transpired - or not transpired - as this blog will note.


We all know that programming changes and shutdowns have resulted in a significant decline in participation in organized sport and structured play. Whether these activities were replaced by more unstructured play such as hiking and walking, we do not know. Regardless, we assert that the collective impacts for programmers, health professionals, parents and children alike are potentially staggering.


In fact, from our initial analysis, we project that from March - December 2020 more than 277 million hours of sport participation were lost for children living in low-income households across Canada.

"277 million hours of sport participation were lost"

How did we draw this conclusion?

  • Just under 1.5 million children live in low-income households in Canada. As only 77% of children are active in sport, the total number of children being assessed is 1.1 million.
  • Sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day are encouraged for children ages 5-19, where vigorous activity largely comes from structured play.
  • A review of initial related research for the 16 weeks from March to early July 2020, suggests that 7.7 million hours of activity were lost for every week that sports were shut down, equating to 123 million hours of lost activity.
  • Over the summer of 2020 most organizations were operating at about 50% capacity, so of the estimated 1.1 million children active in sports, 50% had access while the others did not. Over the seven weeks from July to August, this equals an estimated additional 35 million hours of lost activity.
  • At the start of the 2020-21 school year until December, while programs started opening in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec were largely closed. Using similar rationales noted above, we can infer that an additional 116 million hours of activity were lost.

A graphic showing the total hours of play lost in 2020. In March to early-July, 126,002,028 hours were lost. July through August, 35,438,070 hours were lost. And from September to December, 116,148,871 hours were lost. In total, 277,588,970 hours were lost in 2020.
A graphic showing the total hours of play lost in 2020. In March to early-July, 126,002,028 hours were lost. July through August, 35,438,070 hours were lost. And from September to December, 116,148,871 hours were lost. In total, 277,588,970 hours were lost in 2020.

Where do we go from here?

The impact of this is significant, and undoubtedly broad. The long-term physical and mental health impacts on our nation’s youth may not emerge for years. Will children return to what they enjoyed prior to the pandemic or have new habits been formed that don’t include vigorous activity? Will online programming prove to be a suitable replacement for the face-to-face model used pre-pandemic? Will the organizations that provided programs for low-income families remain solvent during the restart or have many simply disbanded never to return? Some researchers have suggested that sport clubs will have to offer less structured programming, promote social connections over competition and steer away from contact sports. We may also see a reduction in programming and more outdoor versus indoor options. 


Written by Guest Authors:


David Legg, Ph.D.

Chair, Calgary Adapted Hub

Professor, Department of Health and Physical Education, Mount Royal University


Cheri L. Bradish, Ph.D.

Founder/Managing Director, Future of Sport Lab (FSL)

Associate Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management