Are Sports Safe For Our Kids Right Now? We Reached Out To Experts

by Christine Organ
How Safe Are Youth Sports Right Now?
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I’ll be the first to admit that I could use some help navigating the hot mess that is the pandemic decision-making process. I have tween and teen sons, both of whom thrive on team sports for physical activity. Like most kids, the more they move, the better their mood, attitude, and general mental health. They are not elite athletes; just kids who like to play games and sports with their friends.

But they are not self-directed when it comes to physical activity. They don’t just go out for a jog around the neighborhood; they need team activities with their friends and peers to be motivated.

Enter: summer sports.

According to a press release issued by National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), “Market research, initiated by [NATA, American Academic of Pediatrics (AAP), and American Medical Society(AMS)], with more than 1,500 parent respondents, found that almost 70% had youth athletes that were already playing or intended to let their child participate fully as soon as sports return.”

My older son plays baseball, which naturally has a whole lot of social distancing. It’s also safer because the sport is played outside, and face coverings are pretty easy to use.

But even with those precautions, we needed to be vigilant about safety – and it was hard. Now that summer is winding down (which means fewer outdoor sports) and some schools are looking to start up their sports teams, the issue is as confusing as ever.

“More than 96% of respondents desired additional information and guidance on how to return to sports and engage their youth athletes in sports as safely as possible during the pandemic,” NATA reported.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I sure do wish I could have Dr. Fauci on speed-dial to guide me through my daily activities and questions.

But I don’t. And you don’t either.

To help parents navigate these tough decisions, NATA recently partnered with AAP and AMS to share information on youth sport safety during the pandemic.

“This partnership is an extension of the natural collaboration that athletic trainers have with sports medicine physicians and pediatricians for the greater good of the patient,” said NATA President, Tory Lindley, MA, ATC.

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Together, the three groups created a virtual series to “help families make smarter, more informed decisions and to share the various ways parents can partner with their local sports organizations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when kids are playing sports.” They also created three parent-focused resources: Understanding Risk Related to COVID-19 and Sports, Safety Checklist for Sports Participation during COVID-19 and Cloth Face Coverings in Youth Sport.

Much of their advice confirms the widespread public health guidelines, such as social distancing, face coverings and proper hygiene, but they also provided the following guidance for parents before letting a child participate in youth sports:

– Ensure sports and recreation activities are approved by state and local governments.

– Understand the new safety rules and expectations.

– Have own face covering, hand sanitizer, towel, water bottle and tissue with name on it.

– Ensure the athlete’s sports physical is current.

– Ensure guidelines also address social distancing, safe use of equipment, hygiene practices, behaviors to avoid and ongoing communication with coaches and sports medicine teams including athletic trainers.

Admittedly, many parents, myself included, want more details. We want specific, concrete steps to take, and clear guidelines to follow. We want to minimize the guesswork involved. This is where the virtual series comes in.

In the discussions and interviews, health care professionals – from pediatricians to athletic trainers – provided hard but clear recommendations for parents, including things like dealing with “between the whistle” interactions that happen in sports and the importance of modeling safe behaviors for our kids so that they can get back to playing sports – and we can all get back to the activities we love – sooner.

NATA President Tory Lindley told Scary Mommy that it’s important for parents to be educated about the risks involved and to model safe behavior — always. That means wearing face coverings at the events too.

But how can a parent be sure that the safety precautions will be followed at practice? Lindley recommends that parents be involved, observant, and hold the sports leagues accountable for ensuring safety. It is the obligation of the youth leagues and sports organizations to create safety plans – not just for COVID, but for other potential emergencies – and then implement those plans.

“If a sports league doesn’t have safe plans, don’t sign up with that league,” he says. “While many of the safety measures are pretty basic, planning is critical.”

As is implementation.

When asked about whether kids might be able to participate in sports in the fall and winter when the weather is less conducive to outdoor activities, the healthcare experts participating the virtual series reminded parents that it all comes down to contact and space. For instance, wrestling is riskier than swimming.


But just because a sport is less risky doesn’t mean it is risk-free. This is where face coverings and physical distancing come in, Lindley says – even for adults who aren’t participating like coaches, referees, and spectators.

When it comes down to making the actual decision – should my kid play or not? – Lindley suggests doing the following:

– Assess whether and how the sport can be done safely.

– Hold the sports organization or league accountable in advance – ask about safety precautions and make sure they follow through and take responsibility.

– Make it a family decision, reminding everyone that actions outside of the sports practices will also matter.

– Consider how the family is going to follow through with day-to-day safety precautions.

Finally, Lindley also warns parents about the “zero to one hundred” risks with youth sports. Because we haven’t had this kind of shutdown before, there are a lot of kids who might be jumping back into intense physical activity after months of very little activity. It’s important that schools and organizations understand the healthcare needs involved with sports, and he recommends that youth sports leagues consult with athletic trainers, who (unlike personal trainers) are healthcare providers, to make sure that re-entry into sports is also done safely.

Fellow parents, these are confusing and trying times. We want to do what’s best for our kids’ health – mental and physical – and also do what’s best for protection our communities. We want to do what’s right. We really do. But these are hard issues with no easy answers. Fortunately, there are experts here to share their input and help us make these decisions. If you’re concerned or confused about the safety of youth sports right now, check out these videos:

Session 1: Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Sports Participation during the Pandemic

Session 2: Safety Precautions for You and Your Team

Session 3: Navigating Sports During COVID-19 for Elite Athletes