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Youth sports and COVID-19: Safety is key for returning to play

Sports coming back after COVID - When is it safe?

Pro sports organizations such as the National Basketball Association are announcing their plans to return from COVID-19. When will high school and youth sports follow suit?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put sports at every level of competition on hold. But as professional organizations such as the National Basketball Association announce their plan to return, the question becomes – when will high school and youth sports follow suit?

It’s important to note that the return of professional sports will not impact the return of other sports leagues — at least not directly.

Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Laurel Rudolph said that each level is regulated by a different governing body and is played in a unique environment.

Rudolph, director of Sports Medicine, Marshfield Clinic Health System, highlighted factors such as crowd size, player access, testing and finances that vary quite a bit when comparing professional and youth sports. These differences can greatly impact the steps that need to be taken in order to return to play safely.

Preparing for a safe return

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) is the governing body for Wisconsin high school sports while youth sports leagues have local youth organizations and parks and rec departments that are responsible for these types of decisions.

Rudolph noted that while The National Federation of High School Sports recently published a template of potential guidelines for opening up high school athletics and activities, there are still many aspects that need to be taken into account.

Each sport’s path to safe play has different obstacles that need to be overcome as well. Rudolph used cross-country as an example. “You could stagger the start time during a meet, but that doesn’t address social distancing at the beginning or end of the race,” she said.

Additional considerations also will need to be made in regards to venue, number of participants, travel and social distancing at the meet.

How to stay up-to-date

The situation is evolving constantly, with new guidelines and scheduling changes being announced weekly. So, what’s the best way to stay? in the loop?

The best resource for middle and high school athletes and their parents is their respective school administrators.

For youth programs, it would be best to contact the local organization directly to get the latest updates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a helpful guide on principles to keep in mind and how to assess risk regarding youth sports.

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