Youth sport thriving in Norfolk despite bleak national picture
- Credit: North Walsham RFC
As lockdown ends, it seems it is football and fitness - not Fortnite and FIFA - that are exciting Norfolk youngsters, after it was revealed the county has seen a boom in youngsters getting sporty.
The region's youth are bucking the national trend, as Norfolk youth sports clubs report an increase in participation, despite national research showing children were almost 30pc less likely to return to their teams.
The research by the Youth Sport Foundation found junior sports club memberships fell by 67pc during lockdown, but organisers in our county say children are excited to get back outside.
Chris Chisholm, chairman of Cromer Youth FC, which runs teams for boys and girls from under-5s to an adult side, says the biggest challenge of the pandemic has been finding facilities and pitches as the club grows.
He said: "Next season we've got an adult team for the oldest age kids finishing youth football and we've got more kids than ever.
"We've agreed a partnership with Cromer High School for our younger teams to play there, but it's hard to find places to play because obviously you've got to do super cleaning and be super cautious at the minute.
"We've got a tournament in a couple of weeks that was postponed due to the pandemic and even though we've scaled it back due to Covid, there's still going to be over 70 teams.
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"It's really encouraging, we've got loads of teams on the reserve list because we can't fit everybody in."
Mr Chisholm added the club had to apply for a grant to cope with the increase in uptake.
Positive news was echoed by Norfolk FA facilities, development and investment manager, Ian Grange, who said none of the county's clubs had closed as a result of the pandemic.
He said more than £430,000 of funding had been given to over 100 clubs in the county through six Covid support funds from the Football Foundation.
Mr Grange praised clubs saying they had done a "fantastic job" to deliver football while meeting Covid guidelines.
It's not just the county's football clubs who are bucking the national trend, with North Walsham Rugby Club also seeing its biggest ever intake this year.
Alix Stimpson, who runs the club's youth set-up, said the delay in the RFU interpreting government guidelines had caused issues in the early days of the pandemic, but said the future was bright.
She said: "We played to the best the law would allow us, when we were allowed to come back.
"I think the RFU were strict and took the whole thing a lot more seriously than other sports.
"We've had increased costs and risk assessments and we're all volunteers so it has been a lot to take on.
"But we've never seen an uptake like it, not only is our retention up there, we've had parents just wanting to get kids playing sport."
Away from the pitches and on to the courts, Katie Brooks, who coaches junior players at Cringleford Tennis Club said last summer was her busiest ever, and is anticipating an even busier one this year.
Last summer, the club's junior coaching programme was fully booked a month before the term had started, with this year's already fully booked.
Ms Brooks said: "The initial fear amongst all coaches was 'would people return to tennis after lockdowns or would they find a new sport?'.
"But more and more people are playing tennis and enjoying being outside and in the fresh air."
However, despite "very high demand", Ms Brooks says the pandemic has still been "very stressful" for coaches.
She added: "Coaches have had to change many aspects of their work during this last Covid year, including reducing class sizes, adapting their lessons and so on."
Ms Brooks' hard work paid off as she was named Norfolk LTA Development Coach of the Year.
She said: "It was incredible news after such a traumatic and immensely difficult last year.
"The future of tennis both at Cringleford and in this country, I believe is looking very positive and bright."