As some states begin lifting restrictions, and exploring options for the return of some youth sports, more questions than answers abound.
Over the weekend a youth baseball travel tournament in Missouri landed in the spotlight, receiving heavy doses of both praise for getting kids back on the field and criticism for the health risks involved in doing so. Steps were taken to protect all those involved – including umpires calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound, no high-fiving among teammates and only three kids allowed in the dugout at a time while maintaining social distancing. But reports of coaches congregating and groups of kids hanging out in the dugout together cast a concerning shadow on the event.
Earlier this week Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced a plan for allowing baseball and softball teams to begin organized practices on June 1 and commence games in the middle of the month. Among the guidelines they have rolled out: players won’t be allowed in the dugouts and coaches are responsible for enforcing social distancing. Organized practices for other team sports like soccer and basketball remain suspended.
In Indiana, Governor Eric Holcomb is targeting May 24 as a potential date for the reopening of sports complexes in which safety guidelines will be in place that include no spectators at practices. And in Louisiana youth sports may be one of the first group activities allowed during phase one of its reopening with measures in place outlining the number of kids allowed in the dugout and social distancing of fans in the bleachers, though Dr. James Diaz, an expert in public health with Louisiana State University Health Services, told a media outlet there: “All of these sports you are going to be breathing heavily and remember the virus replicates in the air for up to three hours…(kids are) actually very good transmitters of the disease and a few can get very sick.”
And those are the fears weighing on the minds of millions of parents as communities begin the complicated path back to daily life and the gradual resumption of youth sports.
A recent survey of parents with children ages 8 to 18 who have played organized sports in the past year found that 50 percent are worried that their young athlete will get sick if they return to action when coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Forty-six percent of parents also said they were worried about getting sick themselves.
“We have to really accept the fact that reopening, whether we’re talking about youth sports or openings in general, will mean increased exposure and probably more cases,” said Lauren Sauer, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins. “We still have a way to go on understanding how SARS-CoV-2 infects and impacts kids. As the research catches up with the spread of the disease and particularly how it impacts and spreads across children and how youth can potentially or potentially not be drivers of infection and transmission, we have to be willing to adapt our best practices and to revise our recommendations regularly. This can be challenging within the context of sports and sporting events. It can also be particularly challenging when you are thinking about teaching kids new behaviors.”
Baseball and softball appear to be the team sports that most states are likely to lean toward reopening with, since there is less contact among athletes than other sports. Individual sports like tennis and golf also figure to be among the sports that may start in some communities, while stressing social distancing among athletes.
The United States Tennis Association released a detailed list of suggestions for grassroots players to safely return to the courts. Among the recommendations are not to use your hands to pick up balls, to not switch sides of the court, and to avoid playing doubles. The United States Specialty Sports Association also released return-to-play guidelines.
The path to reopening youth sports will hinge on the decisions made by each state’s governing bodies and where these athletic activities fit into each phase of the process.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports will continue to monitor and follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND READING:Coronavirus Health Safety Policies
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