A: Great question from a follower! We recommend keeping in mind three main things when considering the safety of a team sport: Space, Sharing and Stability!
-To what extent is physical closeness a requirement of team play?
-Can players socially distance when not in the field of play?
-Can spectators socially distance?
-Can team size and crowd size be limited?
-Are socially distanced alternatives to high-fives, fist bumps and other close contact victory celebrations being employed?
-Can ventilation be increased for indoor spaces or can the sport be played outdoors instead?
-Can sharing of equipment be reduced or eliminated?
-Are plans in place for increased cleaning of any shared playing areas?
-Can hand sanitizer breaks be built into the game if any sharing is necessary?
-Can sharing of spaces such as locker rooms be avoided?
-Are guidelines for not sharing food and drinks among players in place?
-Can kids practice in smaller, consistent groups over the course of the season?
-Can competition be limited to games among members of the same community?
Staying home when sick and wearing a mask apply across the board.
Like other activities, we can think of various team sports falling along a spectrum of risk and how various modifications can be made to reduce risk. On one end of that spectrum we might consider a team sport like tennis as relatively low risk, particularly if played outdoors, with kids wearing masks and a new ball put into play with each serve because players are already physically distanced on the court and otherwise don’t share equipment. On the other end of the spectrum, we might consider a sport like wrestling, which typically takes place indoors and involves prolonged, close physical contact as higher risk without many opportunities for risk reduction aside from mask use (sorry wrestlers). In between might be baseball where employment of strategies such as wearing masks, using a modified dug-out (kids are spaced out along the baseline, for example) which allows for social distancing when players are not on the field, each player using their own bat, glove and other equipment, breaks for hand sanitizer application and within community competition only can serve to reduce risks. For sports for which close contact is required to play such as wrestling, football or basketball, the safest option may be to just focus on individual skill building and strength training-forgoing competitive play.
Organized team sports can be an important outlet for many kids. Ultimately, families have to weigh their personal risk tolerance, level of COVID-19 transmission in their community and the safety protocols that have been put in place by your child’s sports league and/or coach when making a decision about team sports this Fall.
We also recommend The Aspen Institute Return to Play: COVID-19 Risk Assessment Tool for more tips on how to evaluate and modify risk of youth sports.