It has become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is not going to end anytime soon. This means that we are going to have to figure out how to live and raise our children, when every action we take apparently comes with risk.
Sports for young people can bring great benefits to children. Team sports provide opportunities for exercise, which is essential for health, as well as for socializing and learning how to be part of a community. Children need these opportunities, which are particularly lacking during the pandemic. It would be great if we could find a way for kids to play sports during the pandemic. But like every trip to the store or even to the mailbox, there are risks.
To help parents understand and manage these risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released information and considerations on youth sports during COVID-19.
First of all, what sport?
The first thing parents need to think about is the sport itself. Some sports are simply riskier than others. Questions to consider include:
- Does sport require that people are close to each other? Think about fighting baseball.
- Is there a lot of equipment and / or shared equipment? The less gear, the better.
- What about the players who don’t play? For example, while social distancing is relatively easy for swimmers during a race, they are often packed together on a pool deck between races.
Other considerations when thinking about a sport or a team include:
- The age and maturity of the players: can we really trust them to respect all the safety rules?
- Team size: Large teams are more difficult to manage and protect. Small groups, especially cohorts of children who stay the same (instead of mixing them up), are best.
- Supervisors: are there enough to manage the team, but not enough to create more risk? Are they educated about COVID-19 and do they have support to get and do what is necessary to keep players safe?
- Non-gamers: Spectators, volunteers and others increase the risk. How does the team / league handle this?
- The physical setup of training and competition: does it maximize social distancing as much as possible? This also includes the start and end times, which should be staggered so that people have time to leave before new people arrive.
- Is there a plan / policy to manage possible exposures? It should be in place before anything starts, and everyone should be aware of it.
- Travel competition plans: This is especially an issue if a team is from an area with more COVID-19 cases. Local competition is probably better.
- Are there players at risk on the team, such as children with health problems? It could change everything about the risks a team can safely take.
Reduce the risk, but not erase it
The only way not to risk catching or spreading COVID-19 from youth sports is to not play it. Some families will likely end up making this choice, such as families with vulnerable children or other vulnerable people living with them, or families whose life or work situations put them at continued risk of catching the disease. who could end up passing it on to the team. . For these families, this will be just one of the many difficult and sad decisions they will have to make during this crisis.
For those who decide to try it out, after carefully considering the sport and the team, there are ways to reduce the risk. They understand:
- Stay home if you are sick or have known or possible exposure. This cannot be said often enough or clearly enough. We have a great responsibility to each other at this time. There is no practice or competition worth risking someone else’s health or life. Check with your doctor or local health department when it would be safe to return.
- Frequent hand washing. Hand sanitizer should be readily available during training and competitions, and everyone should use it all the time.
- Wear a mask. I know it can be difficult to wear one during vigorous exercise, but it can literally save lives. Experiment to find the mask that works best, and remember that it should cover both the nose and the mouth. Masks are most important when social distancing is not possible; if players need to remove theirs briefly, they should move more than six feet away from anyone.
- Be outside as much as possible. It works better for some sports than others, obviously.
- Frequently wipe down any shared equipment or surfaces. Cleaning products should be as available as hand sanitizer and should be used as often.
Finally, while players and spectators will want to shout encouragement, it’s best to keep quiet, as shouting can propel the virus further.
Team sports will not be the same, of course – and for many children and families it will be very disappointing. But if we can find a way to do Something, to be active and be together could help us get through this extraordinary, scary and terrible time.
Follow me on twitter @drClaire
Our sincere thanks to