Difficult decisions loom as some youth sports programs begin reopening

Difficult decisions loom as some youth sports programs begin reopening


As organizations begin reintroducing some youth sports in their communities around the country, questions continue to swirl on how to do so safely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hosted a one-hour webinar for youth sports stakeholders recently – you can listen to it here – providing guidelines and recommendations on this complex path on the way to returning to a new normal.

“There are a number of behaviors that youth sports programs can encourage to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread during competition and practice,” Dr. Jill Daugherty, a member of the CDC’s Community Guidance Team and Community Intervention and At-Risk Task Force, said during the webinar. “A general principle to follow is the more people a child interacts with, the physical closeness of that interaction, the longer that interaction, and the more people sharing equipment, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading.”


The CDC recommends that all decisions regarding youth sports programming should be made at the local level, in collaboration with local health officials who can help determine levels of COVID-19 community transmission and the capacities of the local public health care system.

The CDC assesses the risk of COVID-19 spreading 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.

With no universal blueprint in place on how to enforce social distancing in sports that involve close contact, there are a lot of return-to-play guidelines being introduced around the country. You can review guidelines of various sports organizations here.

At this time, the CDC’s recommendations lean heavily on emphasizing practice and skill work where social distancing can be done more effectively, rather than on game play. During its webinar it said: “For close contact sports like wrestling or basketball, play may be modified to safely increase distance between players. For example, players could focus on individual skill-building and conditioning instead of competition; or players can limit the time they spend close to others by playing full contact only in game-time situations. Or leagues can choose to decrease the number of competitions during a season.”

In the meantime, sports programs are beginning to resume in various parts of the country: youth sports in South Carolina can begin practicing on May 30; youth sports in Florida receive the go-ahead from governor; governor of Arizona says youth sports can begin; and Iowa high school summer sports set to resume June 1; among many other states who are starting to allow teams back on the field under a variety of guidelines.   

One of the biggest questions, among many, is whether young athletes should wear face masks while competing. The CDC, noting that wearing them may be challenging for players, particularly younger ones, said during the webinar: “Cloth face coverings are most important when physical distancing is difficult, and that’s something to remember.” They also emphasized that masks “should be worn by coaches, youth sports staff, officials, parents and spectators as much as possible.”

Another area of concern is the sharing of equipment. The CDC said “shared objects and equipment like balls, bats, gymnastics equipment and protective gear should be cleaned and disinfected between each individual, if that is possible.” It also stresses the importance of not letting players share towels, clothing or other items used to wipe their face or hands.

These are challenging times, and programs are navigating incredibly difficult circumstances while using a wide variety of approaches – all under the universal goal of keeping young athletes and all those involved in their programs safe.

To stay up-to-date with the CDC’s recommendations regarding COVID-19.

CDC COVID-19 Health Safety Resources

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