two kids in baseball uniforms

Youth Sports In A Summer Of Social Distancing

Among the many difficult questions your children may have asked in recent months, one or two have likely focused on summer activities, specifically summer sports. But how exactly can kids participate in group and team-centric activities while safely social distancing? We’ve assembled a few key considerations to help you determine the risk and ultimately decide what’s best for your family.

Understand the Recommendations

To slow the spread of COVID-19, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has recommended all youth sports be cancelled or postponed this summer. That said, regular physical activity is essential to our overall physical and mental health. So while it’s normal and expected for parents of children who play sports to be worried and anxious about how to proceed, there are some ways to safely return to youth sports and group fitness.

“In order for youth sports to safely resume, we need to consider the risks of the community, as well as the risks for each particular sport,” said Stephanie Piwoni CPNP, APNP at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Neenah. “We understand sports are a way of life for many families, and we want to help continue those activities in a safe way.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends administrators of youth sports organizations consult with state and local health officials to determine if it is safe to play and what safety standards need to be put in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection and spread of illness.

Ask the Right Questions

If youth sports are resuming in your area and you, as the parent, are considering having your child participate in summer sports, here are some things to consider.

  • What will sport play look like? Low-risk youth activities include sports that are played outside, and allow for social distancing between athletes and spectators. Ideally, groups should be limited to less than 10 people. Sport-appropriate drills, which can maintain the 6-foot distance, are safer activities than scrimmages and games where athletes are more likely to have close contact with others.
  • Where will play take place? In addition to playing outside, geographic location and distance need to be considered. Will there be team competition, such as games, scrimmages or tournaments? If so, are the teams competing from the same area or traveling from different areas, and potentially increasing exposure to outbreaks in neighboring communities? There is significantly less risk when teams originate from and play in the same town/county versus traveling across or out of state.
  • What safety measures are going to be implemented? Youth sports should have a plan and protocol to minimize spread of this disease. This should include recommendations and supplies related to masking, handwashing/hand sanitizing, cleaning equipment, handling snacks/drinks, and drop off/pick up guidelines.

Use Common Sense

As families weigh whether participation in youth sports is right for their family, the CDC has determined a risk assessment guide:

  • Lowest Risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone or with family members.
  • Moderate Risk: Team-based practice.
  • Heightened Risk: Team competition and competition between teams from the same local geographic area.
  • Highest Risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas.

“The more people a child or coach interacts with, the closer the physical interaction, the more sharing of equipment there is by multiple players, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” explained Piwoni.

Screening should be done prior to any youth sport gathering, whether it is a drill/work-out or competition. If there has been known close COVID-19 contact OR the athlete has any illness signs or symptoms, the athlete should not be present at youth sports.

Additionally, it’s important for athletes to take the time to get back up to speed or conditioned for their sport. Many youth athletes have been more sedentary the last couple of months, and without appropriate conditioning, could be at greater risk of injury.

“Ultimately, families must decide what is best for their own family,” said Piwoni. “Weigh risk factors, and take into account the benefit of physical and mental health that is directly connected to sport. Only participate if you feel safe and comfortable.”