There are a number of actions youth sports organizations can take to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and reduce the spread during competition and practice. 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. Therefore, risk of COVID-19 spread can be different, depending on the type of activity. 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.
If organizations are not able to keep in place safety measures during competition (for example, maintaining social distancing by keeping children six feet apart at all times), they may consider dropping down a level and limiting participation to within-team competition only (for example, scrimmages between members of the same team) or team-based practices only. Similarly, if organizations are unable to put in place safety measures during team-based activities, they may choose individual or at-home activities, especially if any members of the team are at high-risk for severe illness.
The way sports are played, and the way equipment is shared can influence the spread of COVID-19 among players. When you are assessing the risk of spread in your sport, consider:
Physical closeness of players, and the length of time that players are close to each other or to staff. Sports that require frequent closeness between players may make it more difficult to maintain social distancing, compared to sports where players are not close to each other. For close-contact sports (e.g., wrestling, basketball), play may be modified to safely increase distance between players.
For example, players and coaches can:
focus on individual skill building versus competition;
limit the time players spend close to others by playing full contact only in game-time situations;
decrease the number of competitions during a season.
Coaches can also modify practices so players work on individual skills, rather than on competition. Coaches may also put players into small groups (cohorts) that remain together and work through stations, rather than switching groups or mixing groups.
Amount of necessary touching of shared equipment and gear (e.g., protective gear, balls, bats, racquets, mats, or water bottles). It is also possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. Minimize equipment sharing, and clean and disinfect shared equipment between use by different people to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.
Ability to engage in social distancing while not actively engaged in play (e.g., during practice, on the sideline, or in the dugout). During times when players are not actively participating in practice or competition, attention should be given to maintaining social distancing by increasing space between players on the sideline, dugout, or bench. Additionally, coaches can encourage athletes to use downtime for individual skill-building work or cardiovascular conditioning, rather than staying clustered together.
Age of the player. Older youth might be better able to follow directions for social distancing and take other protective actions like not sharing water bottles. If feasible, a coach, parent, or other caregiver can assist with making sure that athletes maintain proper social distancing. For younger athletes, youth sports programs may ask parents or other household members to monitor their children and make sure that they follow social distancing and take other protective actions (e.g., younger children could sit with parents or caregivers, instead of in a dugout or group area).
Players at higher risk of developing serious disease. Parents and coaches should assess level of risk based on individual players on the team who may be at higher risk for severe illness, such as children who may have asthma, diabetes, or other health problems.
Size of the team. Sports with a large number of players on a team may increase the likelihood of spread, compared to sports with fewer team members. Consider decreasing team sizes, as feasible.
Nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers. Limit any nonessential visitors, spectators, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations.
Travel outside of the local community. Traveling outside of the local community may increase the chances of exposing players, coaches, and fans to COVID-19, or unknowingly spreading it to others. This is the case particularly if a team from an area with high levels of COVID-19 competes with a team from an area with low levels of the virus. Youth sports teams should consider competing only against teams in their local area (e.g., neighborhood, town, or community).
Promoting Behaviors that Reduce Spread
Youth sports organizations may consider implementing several strategies to encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Staying Home when Appropriate
Educate staff and player families about when they should stay home and when they can return to activity
Actively encourage sick staff, families, and players to stay home. Develop policies that encourage sick employees to stay at home without fear of reprisal, and ensure employees aware of these policies.
Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
If soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer).
Do not allow spitting and encourage everyone to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of their elbow. Used tissues should be thrown in the trash and hands washed immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
If soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used.
Cloth Face Coverings
Teach and reinforce the use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings are not intended to protect the wearer, but rather to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 from the person wearing the mask (who may not have any symptoms of disease). Face coverings may be challenging for players (especially younger players) to wear while playing sports. Face coverings should be worn by coaches, youth sports staff, officials, parents, and spectators as much as possible.
Wearing cloth face coverings is most important when physical distancing is difficult.