The youth sports landscape has become clogged with many challenges these days, as recreation professionals continue to revamp and re-think their youth programming during these unprecedented times.
In many states, outdoor youth sports programs like baseball, softball and soccer are up and running in a variety of forms, ranging from strictly skill-based practice sessions providing young athletes with the chance to at least be back on the field, to the actual playing of games and, in some cases, even tournaments – all with social distancing guidelines and assorted safety protocols in place.
Meanwhile, frustration and disappointment mounts in other states – California among them – where youth sports remain sidelined and concerns escalate that youth athletic games may not be staged the remainder of the year.
As questions swirl nationwide, we checked in with several of our outstanding Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSA) across the country to gauge what is transpiring in their communities and learn how they are handling these extraordinary challenges.
Some CYSAs reference documents they created for running revised programs during these difficult times. These pieces are filled with innovative ideas and insights. If you would like to review any of these simply email Erice Wingate, the National Alliance for Youth Sports’ program coordinator for Professional Administrators, at email@example.com to receive a copy.
Keri Palma, Director of Family & Youth Services for Ohio City Incorporated & Near West Recreation: For the recreation league I manage, Near West Recreation, we had to cancel our normal spring and summer leagues (lacrosse, baseball, softball and track). While we couldn’t put these on, we started offering small group (6 kids max) 1-hour clinics in a variety of sports for ages 9-14. We didn’t offer them for the younger ages because we felt it would be difficult to keep them distanced. For the clinics, we have followed CDC guidelines – spacing, temp checks, hand sanitizer, and masks for coaches.
For the fall, we are surveying families now to determine interest level for leagues and sports. Our two normal sports are soccer and volleyball. We are looking at a shortened soccer season. Kids show up once a week for their age group. They will be placed on a mini team and will rotate through different skill stations. After a few weeks of skill stations and practice, we are hoping to do some short-sided 3v3 games. Parents will be allowed to watch, but there will be boxes marked out where they can sit and there will be boxes marked out where players sit while not playing. Prior to each practice, players will go through a health check and be given sanitizer. There will be no sharing of water bottles or personal equipment. Equipment will be cleaned after each practice/game. This is our plan for soccer, but we have a lot of moving pieces still in place. For volleyball, we are looking at moving from an indoor to an outdoor sand volleyball league. Still moving parts, but hopefully we will hold a few weekly sessions that mix skill building and scrimmages. Volleyball players will follow same protocols as our soccer players.
Lisa Bryant, Parks and Recreation Deputy Director for the City of Ferndale (Mich.): When the COVID-19 situation made it impossible for parks and recreation organizations across the nation to carry forward with business as usual, Ferndale Parks and Recreation shifted its efforts toward humanitarian, virtual, and take-home programming that would help its community cope with the reality that the pandemic presents. We secured assistance from several partners in order to bring programming to fruition, including Gleaners, YMCA, and K9 Turbo Training.
In one of the department’s most successful endeavors during the pandemic, we partnered with the Ralph Wilson Foundation to give away free Sports Play kits to families in Ferndale and its surrounding communities. Each kit includes a sports ball (basketball, soccer ball, playground ball, etc.) along with various play items like sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and playing cards. Kits also come complete with several activities, drills, and games for kids to do while using the equipment. This program is part of our continued efforts to keep the kids in its community healthy and active even as a pandemic limits how much social and physical interaction they can have with others.
Aileen Henderson, Athletics Business Operations for Hillsborough County (Fla.) Parks and Recreation Department: One of the biggest changes and challenges for the youth sports organizations of Hillsborough County has been the suspension of concession use. The feedback we have received from the leagues has been that with no concession sales they are financially stunting their revenue generating opportunities. To quote one of the leagues, “Being a non-profit this was a BIG source of income that we no longer have.” Leagues have been forced to get creative and are utilizing the internet in useful ways to drum up sponsorships to help alleviate the deficit from concession sales they once relied on heavily.
Our partnered baseball and softball programs are feeling the pinch in terms of their total registration numbers. While Hillsborough County released the use of the fields on June 8, 2020 for practices only, surrounding municipalities released their fields before us and have allowed for games and tournaments. As a result, parents interested in allowing their children the opportunity to play games and in tournaments are relocating to those municipalities. While the leagues understand Hillsborough County’s more cautious approach based on recommendations from leading medical advisors, they are also frustrated they are losing players. Some are allowing for interlocking game play at these other municipalities to try and accommodate those parents looking for more competitive play outside of just skills and drills.
Eduardo A. Martinez, Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Manager IV for Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces: The biggest issue we have had to resolve is our park monitoring operation. The parks in Miami-Dade County are open with limited and passive usage. We have had to hire a security company to enforce the mayor’s orders that include facial coverings, skills and drills, and social distancing. We are slowly reopening our Youth Service Providers with the same guidelines. Our playgrounds and fitness zones are closed, which also has created hardships for the children in our community.
We are encouraging our spectators to remain in their vehicles. We are limiting the amount to one parent per child. If they are by the field they have to be socially distanced of six feet or more. All the bleacher sitting areas are closed to the public.
We have zero tolerance. If an organization is not following the mayor’s directives, we immediately suspend their operations. We have staff monitoring and documenting on a daily basis. We have signage at all the facilities. We have a janitorial company for the rest rooms to keep them clean. Before an organization is allowed to resume activities, they must submit a written plan that is reviewed. Once the plan is ready for the Operations Staff to conduct a walk through with the organization, a meeting is set-up and the service provider must detail how they are going to enforce the guidelines. If all is well, they are given clearance to resume.
The plans that are submitted by the organizations pretty much are custom to each sport. For example, baseball and soccer have the same requirements as far as facial coverings and social distancing, but they can’t share equipment. In baseball, there can’t be base running drills with infielders present. Groups are limited to one coach per nine kids. Everyone rotates from station to station.
Jeremy Reimer, Recreation Supervisor for the City of Lenexa (Kan.) Parks and Recreation:
In Lenexa, Kansas, our biggest obstacle has been lower enrollment in sports programs. We have adjusted our spring baseball season to a later start date and in one age group we moved from a “league play” setting to a “skills clinic” setting because we had minimal enrollment. Along with that, we provided more batters helmets to help stop the athletes sharing the same equipment. Our Start Smart activities have seen steady registration numbers. We are able to host our classes inside our full-size gym, this allows parents and spectators to spread out appropriately.
Kirby Rochester, Recreation Specialist for Sterling Heights (Mich.) Parks & Recreation: We have handled the changes to the playing field of life this year in a few ways in efforts to keep the community safe. Our state has been very proactive and stringent on its rules regarding group activities and mask usage. We have taken their lead and molded our programs around the government standards.
I have attached the guidelines that we worked with our local youth baseball and softball organization. On top of that document that was issued at the beginning of the season, masks have become a requirement for all not actively engaged in physical activity. This means all spectators, coaches, umpires and players not on the field are wearing masks. Our biggest difficulties have been getting compliance from those that do not believe it necessary or just do not like someone telling them what to do.
In other youth sports groups where contact is more common, we are transitioning from regular season play to clinic/camp style instruction. Players would still be with their teams and coaches, but no games would be played and instruction would be given that limits or eliminates contact. We are still waiting to see what can be done with indoor sports as we have been pushed back to a limit of 10 people in an indoor space.
Jorge Carcamo, Recreation Services Specialist for the Villa-Parke Community Center in Pasadena, Calif: Unfortunately, for the City of Pasadena, we will likely cancel all youth sports for the remainder of 2020. We usually offer a 7 vs. 7 Fall Youth Soccer League from September through November – in the event that our health department would have given us the green light to play, I created a revised soccer game, rules and layout, please find it attached. Also attached is a revised plan for a Youth Kickball League and Soccer Golf league or activity. Although we are not going to move forward with any of the attached activities (yet), perhaps someone will look at them and find that they may work for their program and/or site. All of the programs in the attachments offer social distancing and guidelines.CYSA Programs Leadership Pandemic COVID-19
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