It seems like forever, but it’s only been a few months.
Many of us are missing competitive sports, either as spectators or as competitors during this coronavirus pandemic.
Some programs at various levels are returning to play in different communities. More are not.
It’s looking like youth sports will return before sports at the national level because they are more adaptable and flexible. Travel may be limited.
Program leaders need to follow the guidelines of local authorities, heed the advice of health officials, consider the liability of returning and take into consideration what parents think. Research tells us 50 percent of parents are afraid their child will get sick if they return to play too soon.
What is the risk of returning to play? Certainly, the path will be different from what it was before.
In a recent Aspen Institute Project Play webinar, “Coronavirus and Youth Sports, How Should Youth Sports Return to Play,” four experts discussed this issue — Dr. Jill Daugherty, Epidemiologist, Division of Injury Prevention for the Center for Disease Control; Jonathon Finnoff, DO, Chief Medical Officer for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee; Lauren Sauer, MSC, Director of Operations at John Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response; and Steven Bank, Vice Dean and Paul Hastings Professor of Business Law at UCLA.
All emphasized a phased approach to returning to play, particularly taking into consideration the sport. For instance, individual sports, such as archery, are much easier to adhere to social distancing. Other sports are advised to stay in small groups and concentrate on individual drills.
Commentators noted participant numbers have continued to drop even before COVID-19. That may continue with the need for testing for illness and contact tracing, in addition to the possibility of youth programs going out of business due to the economic impact of this outbreak.
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Two Aspen Institute programs — Sports & Society and the Health, Medicine and Society Program — partnered to develop the “Return To Play, COVID-19 Risk Assessment Tool,” which is designed to help assess risk in a variety of common sport and recreational activities. The risk categories are assigned “relative to other ways of participating in that sport or activity, based on the latest public health and scientific understandings of COVID-19 and how it can be transmitted.”
The three categories are:
Lowest risk — Individual exercise or training at home, alone or with shared household members, with owned and sanitized equipment.
Medium risk — Individual exercise or training in public, alone or with shared household members, with owned and sanitized equipment; individual exercise or training in public with non-shared household members physically distant.
Highest risk — Any group or training with non-household members not physically distant in private or public; any usage of shared equipment.
The Assessment Tool then lists various fitness and fun activities, from bicycling to yoga, from baseball and softball to tennis.
In addition, the CDC has issued a tool entitled “Youth Programs and Camps During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It asks
“Should you consider opening?”
“Are recommended health and safety actions in place?”
“Is ongoing monitoring in place?”
Below each question are more questions. If you answer “no” to any of them, you are advised to not open.
Trevor Bollers, founder of 7v7 Football in Iowa, said one of the most important news he heard in the Project Play webinar was “your waiver had to be specific language around COVID-19. The standard waiver does not matter. The other thing (participants said) is do something to show that you are taking reasonable care for the health of your (athletes).
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“We need to adjust how we do the check-in day of event. My plan would be to have a web form on the day of the event and I need to see you enter your name and the names of all people in your party before your team could participate.
“I would also only allow teams that are scheduled to play during that time frame to be allowed at the playing field. We would request that other teams have a place to go so that they could follow social distancing practices. We would also not schedule the same teams back-to-back.”
Bollers intends to develop an app allowing event providers to securely take a picture of attendees and have names associated with the picture so that all attendees regardless of participation are tracked.
For those youth sport directors, additional information on reopening can be found at TeamUSA.org under coronavirus updates and Sports Event Planning. A sample COVID-19 specific waiver can be accessed at USSSA (United States Sports Specialty).
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com