How To Play Youth Sports During COVID

Posted November 12, 2020 at 5:00 am by

By San Juan County

As any­one who has inter­act­ed with island kids of late can tell you, COVID-19 is tak­ing a toll on the men­tal and phys­i­cal health of our children.

While that’s true for all of us, many younger islanders are real­ly struggling.

Oppor­tu­ni­ties for our youth to engage in phys­i­cal activ­i­ties can be a great way to rebuild the rhythms of their day to day lives and social con­nec­tions- so long as it is done thought­ful­ly and safely.

The sci­ence is clear: groups of unmasked kids in close con­tact and exert­ing them­selves is a high­ly effec­tive way to spread COVID through­out our com­mu­ni­ty. Cau­tion is required. We’re all tired of the dis­rup­tion, but cas­es are spik­ing. The next cou­ple of months may well be our tough­est yet.

Coun­ty Health Offi­cer Dr. Frank James high­lights his concerns.

“There are two things I’m most wor­ried about right now,” he said. “One is hol­i­day trav­el. The oth­er is youth sports. Ensur­ing that we’re oper­at­ing with an abun­dance of cau­tion is the only way we’ll move for­ward safe­ly as a community.”

So what should we be (and not be) doing? 

Island schools, coach­es and youth sports pro­grams have been care­ful­ly fol­low­ing require­ments from both Gov­er­nor Inslee (Require­ments and FAQ) and guid­ance from the Wash­ing­ton Inter­scholas­tic Activ­i­ties Asso­ci­a­tion (Guide­lines).

There is a lot of use­ful and detailed infor­ma­tion in those doc­u­ments, but that said, there’s some­times a gap between what is allowed and what is safest. Below are a few ideas to help fill those voids and sup­port school lead­ers, par­ents, facil­i­ty man­agers, kids, and coach­es make sense of best prac­tices beyond the offi­cial guidelines.

  • First of all, it is on every­one to keep things healthy. No one wants to be the enforcer but build­ing a cul­ture of thought­ful­ness takes peo­ple to be will­ing to take a lead­er­ship role. Once estab­lished, that cul­ture needs to be mon­i­tored and refreshed over time.

There are some prac­ti­cal things, none of which should be surprising:

  • Out­doors is infi­nite­ly safer than indoors. Win­ter in the islands makes out­door activ­i­ties dif­fi­cult with sog­gy fields and short days. But this may be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for island cre­ativ­i­ty and com­mu­ni­ty solu­tions. Can cov­ered out­door bas­ket­ball courts be lit? Is there a roofed spot for weights and train­ing equip­ment? Is this a good time for track work­outs? Clear­ly, none of these are opti­mal, but there may be solu­tions that make good sense to consider.
  • Indoor activ­i­ties should be con­duct­ed in small (five or less) con­sis­tent pods of kids. Design­ing prac­tice around this approach is essen­tial. Clear­ly, this lim­its things, but the alter­na­tive might be noth­ing at all. Get­ting kids out and mov­ing should be the priority.
  • No gath­er­ing of spec­ta­tors, par­ents, oth­er teams or kids. Every­one involved is either a coach or par­tic­i­pant. Pick up of kids is out­side. Par­ents stay in their cars.
  • Coach­es keep their faces cov­ered. With face cov­er­ings that lim­it droplet spread, not with ban­danas or scarves.
  • Kids keep their faces cov­ered when they’re stand­ing or doing activ­i­ties where they can wear a mask like weight train­ing, wait­ing to use the water foun­tain, stretch­ing, lis­ten­ing, etc.
  • At this point, every­one is itch­ing for a real game against a real oppo­nent. But, giv­en the cur­rent surge in cas­es, even if it was offi­cial­ly allowed, com­pet­ing against oth­er teams, espe­cial­ly from off-island, is a very bad idea.

We all under­stand how dif­fi­cult and tir­ing these lim­i­ta­tions are. The over­all require­ments can be
con­fus­ing to under­stand, hard­er to imple­ment, and dif­fi­cult to have patience with, but the basics are
sim­ple. Out­side when pos­si­ble. Small con­sis­tent groups. Face cov­er­ings. Prac­tice and small group drills

Noth­ing about this is easy or ide­al. Dr. James sympathizes.

“More than any­thing I’d like to be able to say that our kids can play bas­ket­ball or wres­tle or prac­tice indoors and have it be per­fect­ly safe,” he said, “but, as cas­es rise every­where, that’s sim­ply not the case. The islands have done very, very well so far and that is because we’ve all made sac­ri­fices- unfor­tu­nate­ly, our abil­i­ty to play sports as we used to is one of them.”

“This issue of expo­nen­tial spread is crit­i­cal,” he con­tin­ued. “We know now that kids have just as much abil­i­ty to con­tract and spread COVID as adults. One unmasked, infect­ed, and like­ly asymp­to­matic kid around 10 oth­er kids, and sud­den­ly we may have a large and uncon­trol­lable out­break on our hands. The risk is real.”

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Categories: Safety, Sports

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