Now that some youth sports have returned to competition, parents and coaches are concerned about how to do so safely during a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
It’s not enough that youth coaches must handle practice plans, unsatisfied parents, different skill levels and travel plans (just to name a few duties), all with little pay or as a volunteer. Coaches now have to figure out how to teach while social distancing, making sure hygiene is practiced, and come up with contingency plans if a player or staff member becomes ill.
UK Coaching recently posted an article by Blake Richardson discussing measures coaches can take during social distancing while maintaining safety, fun, creativity, social engagements and skill development.
— Creating a safe place. Richardson wrote maintaining a safe space requires planning. He suggests emailing or printing out a site map for parents, marking drop-off and pickup points, exiting and entry points to the venue, one-way systems and waiting zones. If you coach a large group, consider staggering drop-off times to avoid everyone arriving at the same time.
— Be prepared. He wrote the Scout motto — “Be Prepared” — is great advice. Make it a requirement that players arrive already in their practice gear or uniforms and with their own equipment to reduce sanitizing time. You might need extra help to direct arrival and departure processes and with setup of equipment to decrease wait times. If you use equipment such as cones, assign each person their own cone, spaced out, where athletes can store their own equipment, such as water bottles, food, keys, etc. Write names on all drink bottles and sanitizers.
— Reignite your creative spark. One model recommended changing the space, task, equipment or people for a chosen activity, to make it easier or more challenging. Find a task that is engaging, focusing on individual skill development while maintaining a safe space between players.
— Seize the initiative. Experiment with making adjustments to the rules of games and drills, including the size of the playing space, numbers of players and methods of scoring or earning points. Divide the group into socially distanced “bubbles.” Carousel sessions involve splitting the main group into smaller groups and setting up several activities that test different skills. Rotate groups from one challenge to another.
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The Aspen Institute’s Project Play Parent Mailbag periodically answers questions from sports parents. In a recent posting, it noted it didn’t know of any research studying youth sports outbreaks across the country. However, it recognized several instances where youth sports probably was the cause of COVID-19’s spread.
Project Play created a list of eight questions parents can ask themselves or their child’s sports program administrators about safety measures.
— Is my child or household members more vulnerable to becoming ill from COVID-19?
— Has my child’s program shared a detailed plan for risk mitigation?
— Is the program embracing a phased approach to reopening?
— How will the program identify players or coaches who are potentially infected?
— How do I determine if my child is infected and should avoid participation?
— Is my child old enough to understand the reasons for physical distancing?
— What mask procedures are in place for my child’s program?
— How comfortable am I signing a COVID-19 waiver?
Decision making in this unusual time is difficult. There may not be right or wrong answers in specific situations. Parents, coaches and administrators just have to do what they think is best for their athletes and families.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is wear your mask.
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