As spring turns to summer this year, families around the country are wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact youth sports leagues. For many of us, participation in team sports was an integral part of our childhood development. Playing sports teaches children about teamwork, accountability and healthy competition. Youth athletic associations have the potential to shape children’s lives and bring communities together. But, right now, physical togetherness can pose a threat to public health and safety. So, how can we preserve the many benefits that come from a child’s participation in athletics while ensuring that our children and communities are protected from this deadly virus?
Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Different communities have been affected by COVID-19 in different ways. Luckily, there are many common-sense considerations that every community should have in mind when making decisions about how to manage youth athletics during this crisis. For example, does your sport or activity require kids to share equipment? Is the nature of your sport such that it is impossible to maintain six feet of distance between players? How many children play on each team? Do any of your players have asthma or other health problems? Does your team usually travel to games? How far? No matter where you live or how hard your community has been impacted by the virus, you must consider the impact it has had on opposing teams. If your town has not been impacted drastically, but you play a game against a team from a town that was, you could be inviting infection into your community.
Before the season begins, organizations will need to inform players and their families of the steps they will take to promote health and safety. People are more responsive to change when they know what to expect. Implementing some common practices can help achieve the ultimate goal – getting our kids back out there:
- Communicate with your participants before inviting them to the first practice.
- Provide families with a detailed plan of how drop-offs and pick-ups from practice and games will be altered to promote proper distancing.
- Educate families about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 so they know when to stay home.
- Create a system to notify players and families of any confirmed or suspected cases.
- Provide face coverings to players, coaches, and other staff.
- During the season, limit the number of people involved in practices and games to only those who are essential.
- Consider grouping payers into “cohorts” to limit their exposure to each other during practice.
- Ensure that shared equipment is sanitized between each use. Ban spitting and, if necessary, sunflower seeds.
- Come up with creative ways to show respect to opposing teams without shaking hands.
This pandemic has certainly created many obstacles for all of us, but maybe it can be used as an opportunity to explore our creativity and teach our kids about being resourceful. Even more than that, it can help us to teach our kids about compassion and selflessness—about making sacrifices to protect others.