Returning to Youth Sports After the COVID-19 Crisis
With the ensuing COVID-19 crisis, all sports seasons – from the pros, all the way down to youth leagues – have been stopped for months. At this point, everyone is eagerly awaiting permission from government organizations to return to their regular activities, with some states already releasing guidelines for athletes to resume practices.
Soon, athletes will find themselves getting back onto the field in some fashion. Unfortunately, it may take longer for some communities to determine if and how they can come back. So what can athletes start doing now to stay healthy and safe?
Tip #1: Follow CDC and Local Health Department Guidelines
It seems like every day there is new information coming out on COVID-19, from where it’s spreading to new preventative measures. By now, it is common knowledge that the best ways to reduce the spread include social distancing, following proper hand hygiene, wearing a mask in public, and staying home when sick. But there are a number of additional actions that youth sports organizations can take to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and reduce the spread during competition and practice.
As communities begin to start youth sports activities again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remains the best source for information on how youth sports organizations can protect players, families, and communities and slow the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, administrators of youth sports organizations should consult with state and local health officials like the Virginia Department of Health to determine if and how additional adjustments should be made to meet the community’s unique needs and circumstances.
Tip #2: Start Conditioning
Every athlete knows that you can’t just jump into a season ready to go after taking time off from sports. While some athletes may start with a regular pre-season, many athletes are already deconditioned, putting them at much higher risk for injury if pushed too hard too fast. While each city, county and state is slowly allowing a return to sports participation, athletes can start utilizing their free time now to condition themselves ahead of their season.
Just like returning to a sport after an injury, it’s important to gradually increase your training program or activity to allow adequate time for your body to recover and respond. In general, you should not increase your training volume (i.e. sets, reps, weight, distance) or intensity more than 10 percent per week.
Tip #3: Adapt Your Sport
While some sports are easier to practice solo, many sports have unique needs that athletes just can’t access right now. Until normal practices and games are allowed to resume, athletes are going to have to be creative with their training and think of ways to simulate their sport or activity with what’s available.
For sports like basketball and soccer, athletes can use their siblings or parents as teammates and/or opponents, run cone drills, and work on their footwork and shooting skills. Additionally, throwing athletes can use a wall instead of a receiver to practice, taping off sections to challenge accuracy.
For athletes that can’t simulate their sport without access to special equipment, cross-training with sports that require similar skills can keep athletes in shape. For instance, swimmers should use a combination of cardiovascular work and body-weight exercises that train explosiveness and stability.
Tip #4: Know Your Risk to Lower Your Risk
To help delay the spread of COVID-19, governments across the world are encouraging everyone to follow social distancing guidelines and special hygiene measures when in public. But while everyone knows to stay at least 6 feet apart, some sports may find it more challenging to follow these guidelines.
The first question to ask is how risky your sport is. According to the CDC, the risk of COVID-19 spread increases in youth sports settings as follows:
Lowest Risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone or with family members.
Increasing Risk: Team-based practice.
More Risk: Within-team competition.
Even More Risk: Full competition between teams from the same local geographic area.
Highest Risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas.
Sports at higher risks for spreading infections should consider ways to limit that risk while participating. Think about running – while running is a great way to stay fit, using a treadmill at home poses a much lower risk than running in a crowded area or using an indoor track.
To help you find ways to lower your risk, we suggest looking at the Aspen Institute’s Return To Play COVID-19 Risk Assessment Tool. It compiles information from major sports, fitness, health, and outdoor organizations on how various activities can be enjoyed while minimizing transmission or contraction of COVID-19.
Tip #5: Stay Connected with Teammates
Sports do more than just keep us active. In addition to the positive physiological effects of exercise, group sports provide a number of mental health benefits like boosting self-esteem and improving team-working skills.
However, unexpected changes in a player’s ability to play can cause negative effects as well. Studies have shown that injured athletes can sometimes feel neglected and useless during their time away from sport. While it’s unclear if or how COVID-19 has affected athlete’s moods, its safe to assume that athletes are facing similar emotions to those that have faced season-ending injuries.
Just because you can’t get together with your team in person doesn’t mean you can’t stay connect with them. While you wait for restrictions to lift to allow in-person practices, virtual team activities, such as video conference training and fitness challenges, can help you stay in contact with your teammates.
While we have to take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19, don’t let the pandemic thwart your ability to get the CDC-recommended daily physical activity. Following these tips can keep you game-ready until the time comes when we can all get back on the field. Give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest news and tips, and sign up for our monthly newsletter for even more information sent straight to your inbox!
CDC: Considerations for Youth Sports https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/youth-sports.html
CDC: Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html
Aspen Institute: Return to Play: COVID-19 Risk Assessment Tool https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/return-to-play-covid-19-risk-assessment-tool
VDH: COVID-19 in Virginia https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus