As youth sports leagues around the state begin to come out of shutdown and resume activities, there is no doubt that there will be changes from past seasons. Many organizations and associations have put out full guidance on what that return to play should look like, for local leagues, teams, coaches, officials, players, and spectators.
Some of the guidelines will address how the games themselves will function, whether new rules are in place or additional disinfecting protocols of equipment will be required. Some will be focused on additional waivers and considerations during the sign-up process. Still others will outline the changes and adjustments to the pre- and post-game processes, and that is where we will focus here.
The following recommendations are just some of the ideas referenced in guidance documents from Babe Ruth League Baseball, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), US Soccer, the Centers for Disease Control, The Aspen Institute, and others. Be sure to consult with your state and local health department for any other recommendations or requirements, and follow all health guidelines.
Suggested Pre-Game Protocols in Return to Play
• All players, coaches, and spectators who feel sick or are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or that have come in contact with infected persons should stay home and consideration should be given to requiring at-home or on-site temperate checks.
• Consideration should be given to how players and spectators arrive at the facility. In some instances, game times may need to be staggered to limit the number of people arriving or departing at one time, especially if there is only one entrance/exit.
• Players and parents should be informed that there should be no sharing of equipment unless specifically necessary and designated by a coach.
• Food, unless medically necessary, should not be allowed in team areas. This includes sunflower seeds, gum, etc.
• Players should bring their own water bottles, have their names clearly marked, and no share with anyone else.
• Hand washing and hand sanitizing before entering the facility should be encouraged, and stations to complete this should be placed at all fields and courts.
• Only required and essential personnel should be allowed in the area of the team, whether the team bench, sideline, or dugout.
• Pre-game meetings should be eliminated if possible, or limited to one coach from each team and one official, with distancing strongly encouraged.
• Team huddles, breakdowns, handshakes, high fives, group celebrations, etc. should be discouraged or eliminated.
• Adequate space should be utilized for the team area to allow for proper distancing. In a sport like baseball or softball, this means that likely only two players can be in the dugout at once, and the dugout area should spread down the line/fence into the outfield, with player bags and equipment spaced out accordingly.
Suggested Post-Game Protocols in Return to Play
• Avoid team huddles, breakdowns or group celebrations.
• Sportsmanship remains an important part of youth sports. The handshake line should be replaced with a group tip-of-the-cap, salute, or other acknowledgement of the opposing team and officials.
• Continue to encourage players to distance at the end of the competition and as they leave the facility.
• Encourage hand washing or hand sanitizing after the game and provide supplies to complete this.
• Instead of gathering players to discuss the game, adjustments necessary, positive outcomes, or provide information for the next practice or competition, consider providing this information to players and/or parents later on via email or messaging apps.
• Consider dismissing players one at a time so they can remain proper distancing, especially in crowded facilities or where there may be only one exit.
• Disinfect shared equipment immediately.