Norfolk youth sport experiences boom in participation

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As the lockdown ends, it appears that football and fitness – not Fortnite and FIFA – are exciting Norfolk teens after it was revealed the county has seen a boom in young people getting into sport.

The region’s youth are bucking the national trend as Norfolk youth sports clubs report an increase in participation, although national research shows that children are nearly 30 percent less likely to return to their teams.

The Youth Sport Foundation research found that junior sports club membership fell 67 percent during the lockdown, but organizers in our county say the kids are excited about going outside again.

Chris Chisholm, chairman of Cromer Youth FC, which leads teams for boys and girls aged under 5 to adults, says the pandemic’s biggest challenge has been finding facilities and places as the club grows.


Chairman Chris Chisholm (left) trains his team at Cromer Youth Football Club.
– Credit: Cromer Youth FC

He said: “Next season we have an adult team for the oldest children quitting youth football and we have more children than ever.

“We’ve partnered with Cromer High School so our younger teams can play there, but it’s hard to find places to play because of course you have to do super clean and be super careful at the moment.


Cromer Youth FC has a new one

Cromer Youth FC has a new “Youth Old Boys” adult team for players who wish to continue playing after they have been eliminated from youth football.
– Photo credit: Susan Lansdell Sports Photography

“We have a tournament in a couple of weeks that has been postponed due to the pandemic and although we have scaled it back due to Covid it will still be over 70 teams.

“It’s really encouraging, we have a lot of teams on the reserve list because we can’t accommodate them all.”


Cromer Youth FC has a new one

Cromer Youth FC has a new “Youth Old Boys” adult team for players who want to continue playing after they have left youth football.
– Photo credit: Susan Landell Sports Photography

Mr. Chisholm added that the club would need to apply for a grant to cope with the rising intake.

Positive news was echoed by Norfolk FA facility, development and investment manager Ian Grange, who said none of the county’s clubs have closed due to the pandemic.


Cromer Youth FC has a new one

Cromer Youth FC has a new “Youth Old Boys” adult team for players who want to continue playing after they have left youth football.
– Photo credit: Susan Lansdell Sports Photography

He said over six Football Foundation Covid Assistance Funds had donated more than £ 430,000 to over 100 clubs in the county.


Norfolk teens are bucking the national trend by engaging in sports after the lockdown.

Norfolk teens are bucking the national trend by engaging in sports after the lockdown.
– Credit: Casey Cooper-Fiske

Mr Grange praised the clubs for saying they did “a fantastic job” delivering football while meeting Covid guidelines.

It’s not just the county’s football clubs that are bucking the national trend, the North Walsham Rugby Club is also seeing its biggest hit this year.


North Walsham RFC saw the largest youth intake ever during the pandemic.

North Walsham RFC saw the largest youth intake ever during the pandemic.
– Credit: Casey Cooper-Fiske

Alix Stimpson, who heads the club’s youth organization, said the delay in interpreting the RFU’s guidelines caused problems in the early days of the pandemic, but said the future was bright.

She said, “We played as well as the law allowed us to when we were allowed to come back.


The North Walsham RFC U-6 team with their coaches.

The North Walsham RFC U-6 team with their coaches.
– Credit: North Walsham RFC

“I think the RFU were strict and took the whole thing much more seriously than other sports.

“We had increased costs and risk assessments and we are all volunteers so it was busy.

“But we’ve never seen such a reception, not only is our bond up there, we also had parents who just wanted to bring children to the sport.”

Off and on, Katie Brooks, who trains junior players at Cringleford Tennis Club, said last summer was her busiest and expects more this year.


Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.

Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.
– Credit: Cringleford Tennis Club

Last summer, the association’s youth coaching program was fully booked one month before the start of the semester, and this year it was already fully booked.

Ms. Brooks said, “All coaches’ initial fear was’ Would people go back to tennis after bans or would they find a new sport? ‘


Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.

Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.
– Credit: Cringleford Tennis Club

“But more and more people are playing tennis and enjoying being outside and in the fresh air.”

Despite “very high demand”, the pandemic was still “very stressful” for coaches.


Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.

Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.
– Credit: Cringleford Tennis Club

She added, “Coaches have had to change many aspects of their work in the past Covid year, including reducing class sizes, adapting their lessons, and so on.”


Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.

Katie Brooks trains junior players at the Cringleford Tennis Club.
– Credit: Cringleford Tennis Club

Ms. Brooks’ hard work paid off when 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 in both Cringleford and this country looks very bright and bright in my opinion.”



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