boy with soccer ball

Tips for a safer return to sports

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, will it be safe to play team sports again?

“Sports are important for kids, for their mental and physical health,” said Ginny Hendricks, MD, sports medicine physician at OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park, Illinois. “But returning to sports now begs the question: How doable is it?”

Social distancing, wearing face masks and practicing good hand hygiene are the best ways to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A primary way the virus spreads is through tiny respiratory droplets that are emitted when we exhale. These particles can linger in the air from a fraction of a second to several minutes.

“When we talk about working out, the harder you breathe, the more particles are released and the farther those particles fly. Six feet distancing is a pretty random number. Some studies suggest 10 feet is more reasonable, even in a grocery store. So we know with athletes working out, the real safe distance is probably farther,” Dr. Hendricks said.

And that’s just for simple exercise. Full-fledged practices and return to competition are another matter.

It’s relatively easy to practice social distancing in golf. It’s impossible in contact sports, such as football, basketball and wrestling. Most other sports – even one like cross country running – involve at least incidental contact.

Competition increases risk

Rules for team workouts and competition remain fluid and vary from state to state.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) resumed such activity in early July, only to pull back days later under advisement from the Illinois Department of Public Health. In June, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) allowed schools on the Upper Peninsula and in the northwest sector of the Lower Peninsula to resume indoor workouts, while the rest of the state was limited to outdoors. No competitions are allowed, and social distancing and face mask restrictions apply during workouts. Check your state association regularly for updates.

Some private youth sports organizations have resumed summer schedules.

Still, you assume a certain level of risk when you participate in team workouts and competitions. That risk cannot be eliminated, but it can be limited.

“If you’re going to participate, the important thing is to realize the risk. Be aware, and be respectful of the people around you,” Dr. Hendricks said.

Be smart, clean and respectful

Here are some tips from Dr. Hendricks:

  • Educate yourself. “Talk to your coaches. See what plans they have and what drills they’ll be running. In practice, can you do drills that limit the time when you’re in each other’s personal space? Also, try to be outdoors as much as possible. If you have to be indoors, try to have windows open and get the air moving.”
  • Keep your equipment clean. “Don’t share water bottles or other gear. If you’re in baseball or softball, everyone should have their own bat. Use hand sanitizer frequently, and when your workout or competition is over, wash and dry your clothing as soon as you get home.”
  • Shower immediately. This used to be a staple of good sports hygiene. It must be again. To facilitate physical distancing and minimize touching shared surfaces, locker rooms will be closed for the time being. Therefore, athletes should go home immediately after their workout or competition for a shower and shampoo.
    One reason this is so important: “Let’s say you get somebody’s respiratory particles on your body or in your hair, then you lie down in bed. You can get those particles on your pillow, then you roll over and your mouth comes in contact with them. If those particles are infected, now so are you.”
  • Protect vulnerable family members. “You will be at higher risk, so don’t visit your elderly grandmother. Realize you need to limit contact with the vulnerable population, those people with risk factors.”
  • Re-evaluate when conditions change. “What we know is constantly changing, so it’s important that issues be constantly re-evaluated as we come to each new season – and sometimes within a season. We have to adjust.”

Get your physical exam

Remember, participating in interscholastic sports requires a physical examination.

Routine physicals are an important part of maintaining your child’s good health. Vaccinations are more important than ever and should be continued at the recommended schedule.

Make an appointment today with your primary care provider, or find an OSF HealthCare provider near you.

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

View all posts by

Tags: ,

Categories: General