Research In Action

Research In Action

Youth Sports COVID-19
Get the Most Out of Youth Sports During Pandemic
August 25, 2020

By day I am an athletic trainer and member of the CHOP Minds Matter Concussion clinical team. After hours, I dedicate my time to a local rugby team as chairperson of the board and team athletic trainer. As with most, I have been frustrated by the limitations of a safe return to sports after the shutdown, but it is critical to control the spread of the virus so we can get back to normalcy.

To adapt, my rugby team got creative to make the most of the situation as physical fitness, team camaraderie, mental and emotional wellness are important, almost imperative, during this pandemic.

While following local and state guidelines, here are a few suggestions from my team’s playbook to play safely and still get the most out of sports:

  • Start slow! Many have stayed home to help prevent to spread of the virus, so it is important to build up aerobic stamina to help prevent injuries
    • Provide a workout routine for athletes to begin at home to prepare for skills and drills with the team. Have them begin with a dynamic warm up/stretching; when warm, work up to 20-30 minutes of cardio 4-5 days a week. Aerobic training should be done while socially distanced from other people.
  • Set expectations and arrangements before youth arrive at the sports fields. Use a commitment compact so athletes understand the expectations of safe behaviors before coming to practice
    • All athletes should monitor their own symptoms, use only their own water bottle, no sharing of equipment, and limit physical contact before, during, and after practice
    • All sports should be outside as much as possible
  • Create skills-and-drills practices that provide for social distancing. My rugby team practice at a distance, but we focus on skills and drills related to rugby, such as:
    • Kick to another player: develops kicking technique and catching
    • Pass the ball at a distance: develops passing technique and catching
    • Cone drills: develops agility, changing directions, speed, tempo
    • Dummy bags: develops hitting technique (make sure to wipe down between players)
    • Ways to translate this to other sports:
      • Basketball: ball handling drills and shooting (outdoor net)
      • Baseball/softball: batting and throwing technique, set plays at bases
      • Soccer: cone drills, dribbling/foot work, shooting on net
      • Lacrosse: cone drills, passing technique, set plays without defense/offense, shooting on net
      • Football: throwing drills to skills players, running routes, dummy bags (make sure to wipe down between players), cone drills
      • Field hockey: shooting on goal, stick handling drills, cone drills
  • Create competitions beyond team play. There are lots of ways to have competition within a team besides scrimmaging or game play.
    • Team competition should be limited due to the risky nature of being so close to others and traveling to areas with widespread transmission of the virus.
    • Set up a socially-distanced obstacle course or relay race.
    • Use skills-and-drills for competition: first one to shoot 10 free throws, fastest to run backwards over a set distance, longest pass/throw to partner without dropping ball (use water balloons!)
    • Use hula hoops as a boundary and kick/throw/toss ball into hoop.
    • Set up a fitness competition where small teams earn points for completing activities over 3-4 weeks, and the winners get a prize! Builds team camaraderie as well.

I recommend coaches tap into what kids love about participating in team sports – the competition and the friendships. Motivate for fitness and skill-building through creative competition so they stay fit for return to actual sports competition. Let them socialize through drills- just from a safe distance.  

The sooner we get on board with social distance guidelines, the sooner we return to normal competition and practice. I recently participated in a virtual conversation on the Return to Youth Sports with PolicyLab at CHOP. Access the recording and CHOP’s guidelines here.