Sep 30

Balancing Athletes’ Safety with Return to Sport

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I receive daily emails from TrueSport with links to interesting articles 

Website: http://truesport.org/about-us/

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To change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build life skills and core values for success on and off the field

Note: TrueSport supports athletes, parents, and coaches by partnering with organizations throughout the country to promote a positive youth sports experience: an experience that gives young athletes the tools to be leaders in life.

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Winning the right way – with respect and gratitude for teammates, coaches, parents, and competitors

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Using the sport experience to develop positive whole-life attitudes and behaviours: perseverance, courage, honesty, and more

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Wellness-centric lifestyles that fuel athletic and personal success – in sport and in everyday life

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We’re all about the true essence of sport – integrity, respect, teamwork, courage, and responsibility.

The following article posted by TrueSport (truesport.org) is adapted with modifications by M. Schloder

Individual States, municipal governments, school board regulations, and sport federations most likely determine the return to sport as well as coaches and parents. Dr. Leon Kelly, county coroner in El Paso County, Colorado, one of the officials determining local policies around COVID-19, provides some advice about safe return to sport. In addition to this guidance to the public, he’s applying best practices as an assistant coach for his young son’s baseball team.

Understand the Balancing Act

Public health officials are facing a nearly impossible challenge of balancing normal standards of health and the well-being of children such as structured exercise, need for socialization, and concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Dr. Kelly, 

…Return to sport is the risk versus the reward equation. How much risk are we willing to tolerate to achieve the benefits? We know that sports are an absolutely critical component of health, socialization, self-esteem, and learning to overcome failure and disappointment. We don’t want to lose that…

When balancing the costs and benefits, the return to play has largely become sport specific. Sports that are ‘high-touch’ like wrestling, football, and basketball are unlikely to return this season in most school districts, but sports like baseball and tennis that are ‘low contact’ might be allowed to resume practice, according to Dr. Kelly.

Focus on Low-touch Contact Sports

“A single case can quickly lead to a large-scale outbreak, especially as schools reopen and athletes are in contact with more people on a regular basis,” Dr. Kelly notes. Many school districts may allow practices to resume but competition that puts athletes in close contact with teams from other areas is out of the question. If the sport is currently out of bounds for competition, consideration should be given to ways athletes could return to play in a format that is ‘low-touch.’ Even football teams may be able to resume drills that would allow players to experience social benefits while minimizing contact. 

Schloder: Obviously, the sport of wrestling is a close contact sport and would not be a safe return to sport. Dr. Kelly is making reference to team sports but does not provide suggestions for other individual sports except tennis. It would be valuable to provide suggestions for archery, athletics, equestrian, fencing, running, shooting, and swimming, for example. 

Keep it Small and Structured

Local guidelines may control the number of participants coming together. Even if a larger number is permitted, Dr. Kelly suggests keeping numbers low and holding staggered practices to mitigate any risk. There are also reduction strategies to consider for competitions. Setting strict rules about the number of parents who can be at the site is crucial. Create actions teams can do instead of performing the traditional ‘high-fives’ or hand shakes. Mask requirements need to be enforced for all, coaches, athletes, and parents alike. Consider holding virtual Q&A sessions for parents and team members about new procedures and protocols before team gatherings resume.

Ensure Proper Sanitization Practice

lose-up of a white child pumping hand sanitizer from a large container.

It’s best practice to discontinue communal handouts and to implement sanitization procedures as everyone needs to bring their own equipment and snacks. In general, teams need to ensure that shared equipment is regularly sanitized and that disinfectant wipes are always available. Create a list of equipment to be used at practice and indicate ways to keep it clean. Discuss and clarify personal hygiene requirements like hand washing at pre-practice, and then set strict consequences for ignoring these rules.

Consider Temperature Checks and Team Masks

Checking athletes’ temperatures at practices is smart risk management even if many younger children, who contract COVID-19, may be asymptomatic. This simple act of taking temperature – helps remind athletes of the seriousness of their health situation – and may even save a life. While wearing masks can be difficult for younger athletes, they are more likely to be convinced if it is made a ‘fun part’ of the team uniform. Maybe make masks with the team logo. Establish the rule that masks are to be worn during practice but can come off when out in the field.”

Create a Team Code 

…“In our school district, kids and families are signing a pledge to do certain requirements to mitigate the risks,” says Dr. Kelly.  “We’re promising that we’re wearing masks when we’re out, we’re not engaging in high-risk activities, we’re staying home if we feel sick… basically, we do the correct detail to be positive contributors to our school’s community. Consider a pledge for your team that both athletes and parents sign before returning to play”…

Change the Philosophy  

The culture of sport has always been to “tough it out, rub some dirt on it, and keep moving,” often a traditional philosophy. But in this case, the correct choice is … 

…I don’t feel good – I’m going to stay home or I’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and I feel fine, but I’m still going to sit this one out…

Hereby, the stronger decision isn’t playing through it, it is staying home. It provides the opportunity to help children grow and learn to be good teammates and leaders. “We just need to be realistic about what we’re going to gain from this year and maximize those benefits for the children,” Dr. Kelly concludes.


It is a difficult time for sport federations, clubs, parents, and athletes to decide if- or when the appropriate timing for athletes to return to sport is. Keep these practices in mind as decisions are made when and how athletes can safely engage in sports.


TrueSport. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://learn.truesport.org/balance-safety-return-to-sport/

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