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AAP Urges Caution With Return to Sports During Covid

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Key Takeaways

  • As the summer draws to a close, parents are wondering whether fall sports are a safe option for their kids.
  • The AAP recognizes the benefits of sports for kids but indicates there is a level of inherent risk for those who play this fall.
  • While some sports are safer than others, anyone playing any sport should adhere to CDC guidelines for safety and health.

As families consider the safety of returning to youth sports this fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents and caregivers to weigh all of the risks and rewards when making the choice to actually engage in sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The physical and psychological benefits of athletic involvement are acknowledged, but there’s certainly an inherent risk in group activities. Still, parents and athletes alike hope that sports can take place as long as there’s a plan for adhering to CDC guidelines for face coverings, social distancing, and sanitizing equipment.

Safety Considerations: Is it Safe to Play Sports During COVID? 

While many students are eager to get back onto fields, courts, gyms, and mats across the country, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to be extremely cautious and informed when making their decision. “Weighing the risk versus benefit of return to sport is driven by the sport and setting, local disease activity, and individual circumstances, including underlying health conditions that place the athlete or household contacts at high risk of severe disease should they contract SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the AAP advised.

Even if proper precautionary measures are put in place, “The risks of returning to athletics during the pandemic are very clear,” warns Robert Quigley, MD, the Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director of International SOS

“COVID-19 can be transferred from one person to another via heavy breathing, laughing, speaking loudly, coughing, and sneezing. It's important to note that many students may be asymptomatic, which in turn puts others at risk. Knowing these two factors, in addition to the fact that many sports require athletes to come in close proximity to others, engaging in athletics during the pandemic will put those involved at high risk for contracting the virus—even with risk mitigation in place.” 

American Academy of Pediatrics

“Weighing the risk versus benefit of return to sport is driven by the sport and setting, local disease activity, and individual circumstances, including underlying health conditions that place the athlete or household contacts at high risk of severe disease should they contract SARS-CoV-2 infection.

— American Academy of Pediatrics

Why the push for fall sports? 

If there’s one thing most health experts can agree on, it’s that sports are generally good for kids. “In addition to the obvious physical benefits, sports provide student athletes with a sense of community, which is especially crucial during these unprecedented times. Kids who otherwise might struggle with mental health issues may see improvements while engaging in a sport with others,” says Quigley.

For high school-aged kids though, fall sports are often the pathway to college, and for those at the top of their game, there can be a lot of money on the line. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, “NCAA Divisions I and II schools provide more than $3.6 billion in athletics scholarships annually to more than 180,000 student-athletes.” That means despite the pandemic, kids who have prepared and planned most of their lives potentially have a lot to lose if sports are canceled during the 2020-21 school year. 

Are all sports equally safe? 

Definitely not, says Quigley. Sports that require close contact, lots of heavy breathing and little face covering will be more dangerous than those that allow for more distance between players, or are played individually.

According to Quigley, some things to take into consideration when thinking about kids returning to athletic engagements include but are not limited to:

  • The physical closeness that’s required to play the sport as well as physical closeness to others while on the sidelines or bench
  • How many people your child will be exposed to while playing the sport, the size of the team, as well as how long your child will be exposed to others to while engaging in the sport 
  • Shared equipment between athletes required to play the sport 
  • The age of a child, as well as pre-existing illnesses, can put your child at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 while engaging in athletics
  • Amount of travel required outside of the community and mitigation practices that institutions have implemented to protect student athletes 

Which sports are the safest?

You’re in luck if your child happens to play a sport that involves little physical contact. Unless your area happens to be in the midst of a serious COVID outbreak, it’s reasonably safe for your kid to return to the following sports: 

  • Cross Country/Track
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Gymnastics
  • Swimming 

Which sports are the least safe? 

Got a kiddo who loves high-contact sports? You may need to put a bit more thought into whether to move forward with the following sports this fall: 

  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Lacrosse
  • Wrestling
  • Basketball

How to Stay Safe While Playing Sports This Fall

Regardless of the sport being played, the AAP says it’s essential for athletes, athletic staff and spectators to follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC for health and safety during the COVID pandemic. Here’s a quick review of the measures sports teams can take in order to stay safe while playing sports this fall: 

  • Wear face coverings when physical distance isn’t possible
  • Remind all players, staff and parents of the importance of physical distancing and hand washing. 
  • Utilize hand washing stations and have hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol readily available for all
  • Practice in small groups whenever possible
  • Minimize travel to other locations
  • Regularly disinfect high-contact surfaces and items
  • Minimize the use of shared sports equipment and ensure equipment is disinfected between each use
  • Eliminate the use of communal spaces like locker rooms if possible, or reduce by staggering use and disinfecting in between

What This Means For You

It's important to keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics will likely update these interim guidelines as the realities of schools reopening during a pandemic become more apparent. As we know, nothing is set in stone. For now, educate yourself on the pros and cons of sending your child back onto the field, and continue doing your part to keep your community healthy and safe.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. COVID-19 Interim Guidance: Return to Sports. Updated July 22, 2020.

  2. Howie EK, Daniels BT, Guagliano JM. Promoting Physical Activity Through Youth Sports Programs: It's Social. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2020;14(1):78-88. doi:10.1177/1559827618754842

  3. National Collegiate Athletic Association. Scholarships.

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