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How To Balance Safety and the Return to Sport

Boy in mask with tennis raquet

While the question of if your team is allowed to return to sport will likely be determined by municipal government and school board regulations, how you return to sport may be up to you as a coach and/or parent.

Dr. Leon Kelly, county coroner in El Paso County, Colorado, and one of the officials determining local policies around COVID-19, has some advice about how to safely return to sport. In addition to providing this guidance to the public, he’s applying best practices as an assistant coach for his young son’s baseball team, giving him firsthand insight into how play can be reinstated as safely as possible.

Understand the balancing act

Right now, public health officials like Kelly are facing a nearly impossible challenge of balancing normal standards of health and well-being for children, like structured exercise and socialization, with the concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Return to sport is a giant risk versus reward equation,” Kelly explains. "How much risk are you willing to tolerate to get 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, 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, says Kelly.

Focus on low-touch elements

“Remember, a single case can quickly lead to a large-scale outbreak, especially as schools re-open and athletes are in contact with more people regularly,” Kelly notes. That means for many districts, practices may be allowed to resume, but competition that puts athletes in close contact with teams from other areas is out of the question.

If your sport is currently out of bounds for competition, consider how you could return to play in a way that is low-touch. Even football teams may be able to resume drills that would allow players to experience social benefits while minimizing contact.

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