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Returning to Sports Safely During COVID-19

Considerations for parents of sporty kids

Published on: August 10, 2020

boy holding a tennis racket wearing a mask

As our state and counties progress through the Safe Start phases, our local athletic teams and activity centers will look to return as well. We are all anxious to get back to our regular activities, but how can we ensure that we are doing this the safest way possible?

Our athletic training team is here to help. We have compiled recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Washington State Department of HealthWashington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA)National Federation of State High School Associations, and Korey Stringer Institute. Our goal is to provide you with some questions to ask and information to look for so that you can feel prepared and make the most informed choices around re-engaging your child safely into sports.

This excerpted post was originally published on the Seattle Children's On the Pulse blog.
Seattle Children's

Do you have a written return to play during COVID-19 guideline or policy? If so, can I see it?

Ideally, the organization will post this publicly. Written return-to-activity guidelines need to be in accordance with state and local guidelines and restrictions. They should clearly assign roles and tasks to delegate and cover how they will provide oversight. If the organization does not have a written plan in place, we recommend that your athlete not participate until the organization is able to provide a written, clear plan. It is likely that documents will need to be adjusted over time to adapt to an ever-changing environment. As a reference, please see the WIAA COVID-19 guidance documents.

If there is a written plan, search for the below information:

Will there be a screening process for athletes and staff?

All phases of the Safe Start plan recommend screenings. Screenings should include a temperature check and a symptoms check (in person or attestation). Any person (player or coach) with symptoms of COVID-19 should not be allowed to participate and should contact his or her primary care provider or other appropriate healthcare professional.

Additional considerations around symptoms to look for:

What is the plan to replace a staff member experiencing symptoms? Will they cancel the camp/activity? Are back-up staff available? What is the procedure for athletes who report symptoms? Is there a quarantine period, and if so, for how long? How and when will the team organization notify parents of athletes who may have been exposed to an athlete who tests positive?

What are your plans for physical distancing?

During phase 2 of Safe Start, the recommendation is groups no larger than five (with a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times and 6 feet between each pod). For phase 3, groups of five to 10 people when inside or 50 people outside. These groupings should remain the same throughout the duration of the camp or activity. Ask about the plans for distancing both during and in-between activity. Is there a plan for bathroom breaks, lunch breaks and water breaks? During activity, is there a physical distance plan for those waiting to participate in the drill? If utilizing a public space, how will the group handle keeping distance from other members of the public? What will prevent the public from coming on to the field and breaking social distance expectations? Do they allow parents and other spectators?

What are your cleaning plans?

A detailed disinfecting plan will be crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Who is responsible for cleaning? Will the staff or the athletes be cleaning? Is there a cleaning crew that comes at the end of the day? How often will someone clean equipment and shared spaces? What is access to hand hygiene on-site? In phase 2 of Safe Start, athletes should not share equipment. This includes weights, towels, sports specific equipment (softball, football, basketball, disc), and pennies. In addition, there should not be any water stations, and athletes should provide their own water for the day in order to reduce contact areas. In phase 3 of Safe Start, athletes are to maintain physical distancing but can begin to share athletic equipment (with cleaning taking place between use and intermittently during practices).

What is your cloth face-covering plan?

When do athletes need to wear cloth face coverings? For both phases 2 and 3 of Safe Start, the recommendation is that athletes wear cloth face coverings at all times except for when participating in strenuous activity.  Ensuring that there is a plan for huddles, breaks, check-in, checkout and any other down time will be important.

What should my student-athlete do to stay as safe as possible and help keep themselves and their team healthy?

  • Stay home if you are feeling sick or have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19.
  • Use cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets.
  • Take physical distancing seriously – stay 6 feet apart from teammates and coaches.
  • Practice good hand hygiene
    • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts or contests, or use hand sanitizer, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces.
    • Avoid touching your face.
    • Sneeze or cough into your face covering, a tissue, or the inside of your elbow.
    • Do not do pre-game and post-game handshakes, high-fives or fist bumps.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and shoes at all times in the weight room to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment and surfaces.
  • Shower and wash workout clothing immediately after returning home.
  • Be patient, flexible and adaptable during this temporary new normal.

Praise your student-athlete when you catch them doing this right.

Should my child or teen see their doctor before returning to sports?

Remember to schedule a sports physical if it would normally be required for your athlete. Other situations warrant contacting your child’s doctor before they return to sports. Per the WIAA, “every student-athlete with a prior diagnosis of COVID-19, symptoms suggestive of past COVID-19, or a ‘close exposure’ to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 should contact their medical provider to determine if further evaluation is warranted prior to returning to sports.”

Kids with medical conditions that put them at greater risk for complications from COVID-19 should also consult with their doctor. These conditions include moderate to severe asthma, severe heart conditions, diabetes, chronic liver or kidney disease, severe obesity and other conditions that compromise the immune system.

Getting ready to play

Most young athletes will need some time to get back into shape and build up their skills. To avoid injuries, a slow-and-steady plan is best — even for kids who tend to be naturally athletic. Reach out to your child’s coach or athletic trainer for recommendations on a conditioning program that your athlete can do from home, along with stretching routines and skill-building drills.

Our hope is that our youth can return to the physical and social activities that help maintain their physical and mental health while remaining as safe as possible.


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