Youth Sports Practice

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Updated Nov. 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic caused youth sports organizations to postpone, delay, or cancel their seasons in Pennsylvania and across the United States.

Now, with states beginning to ease restrictions, youth sports organizations are beginning to get ready to play.

To help keep players, coaches, fans, and staff safe, UPMC developed a Return to Sports Playbook for youth organizations. The playbook covers guidelines on issues like social distancing, sanitation, personal protective equipment, and more. It also includes recommendations on how organizations should structure practices and games.

While we believe these guidelines can help with safety, we cannot guarantee that athletes, coaches, and others will be safe from illness or injury. Also, these recommendations may change as we continue to find out more about COVID-19. Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Pennsylvania Department of Health for updates.

Update: As of Nov. 18, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health updated its order regarding universal face coverings. All people over the age of 2 must wear face coverings at all times indoors when in the same location as people from other households. They must wear face coverings at all times outdoors if they cannot consistently maintain 6 feet of distancing from people from other households. In terms of sports, this applies to athletes (including cheerleaders), coaches, officials, and spectators, including during active competition.

How Can Youth Sports Organizations Keep People Safe?

COVID-19 prevention tactics like social distancing, sanitation, and facemasks can help athletes, coaches, fans, and others.

  • Social distancing: Players, coaches, and fans should try to keep 6 feet of distance whenever possible.
    • Players should stay 6 feet apart when not participating in drills that require close contact. They should sit or stand at least 6 feet away from each other in the bench area.
    • Organizations should mark off 6-foot increments in high-traffic areas like bleachers, concession stands, and restrooms.
    • Contact like high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps, and elbow bumps should be avoided.
  • Sanitation: Equipment and facility common areas should be kept as sanitary as possible.
    • Players should use their own equipment, including water bottles and other hydration containers. Do not share with teammates or others.
    • All equipment should be cleaned after each use.
    • Staff should clean restrooms and other high-traffic areas frequently.
    • Hand sanitizer should be readily available.
  • Personal protective equipment: Under Pennsylvania’s updated order, players, coaches, fans, and all other athletic participants must wear facemasks.
    • While indoors, everyone over the age of 2 must wear facemasks at all times.
    • While outdoors, everyone over the age of 2 must wear facemasks if they cannot consistently maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet.
    • Facemasks should fit over the nose and mouth while still allowing for steady, regular breathing. See the CDC’s mask guidelines.
    • As gloves have not been proven to reduce COVID-19 spread, we do not recommend their use. Regular handwashing with soap and water or hand sanitizer is recommended.

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Structuring Youth Sports Practices to Keep People Safe From COVID-19

Practices should have a maximum of 25 participants, including coaches.

All athletes and coaches should take a no-touch temperature daily if possible.

  • If someone’s temperature is higher than 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, they should be removed from the group, and their parents/guardians should be notified.
  • If a player, coach, or other participant is feeling ill, they should stay home.

Only essential personnel — players and coaches — should participate in practice. Parents should not stay in the practice area, especially if the area doesn’t allow for proper social distancing. This is especially important indoors.

Adults should supervise all activities to ensure social distancing, sanitizing, and personal protective equipment guidelines are being followed. When practice is over, the group should not participate in extra free play.

Structuring Youth Sports Games to Keep People Safe From COVID-19

If no players or coaches become ill with COVID-19 after two weeks of practice, leagues can progress to games and other competitions. As with practices, they should make sure to follow COVID-19 prevention tactics like social distancing and sanitizing.

  • Games and other competitions should take place with a maximum of 50 people, including coaches, actively participating.
    • Tournaments can have more than 50 participants, but no more than 50 should be competing at the same time on the same playing surface.
  • Players and coaches should take a daily no-touch temperature. If someone’s temperature is over 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, he or she should be removed from the group. That person’s parent/guardian should be notified of the fever.
    • Anyone feeling ill should stay home and not participate.
  • Organizers should make sure to allow for proper social distancing between both participants and the crowd.
    • If space in the playing facility is limited, consider asking athletes to bring only one or two “fans.”
    • League organizers should allow enough time between competitions to prevent the teams playing next from gathering while waiting for the playing surface to be free.
  • Many tournaments involve multiple brackets (different age groups, wrestling weight classes, etc.). To allow for proper social distancing, organizers should set up the schedule to prevent a large number of people in the same facility at the same time.
    • Games should be spread out over multiple days and in multiple venues to limit the number of people in one space at one time.
    • Organizers should allow for enough time in between games to prevent a bunching-up of athletes waiting to play.
    • Downtime at events should be limited. If a team has finished its game and isn’t scheduled to play again until hours or days later, that team’s players and coaches should leave the facility.
    • Discourage teams and athletes from mingling between competitions.
  • Families should bring their own food and drink. Teams should not share food items unless they are pre-packaged and sealed.
    • Concession stands should allow for proper social distancing, food preparation, and sanitation.
  • Follow local and state requirements on facemasks. Wearing facemasks can help limit the spread of COVID-19.

What Happens If a Youth Athlete Gets COVID-19?

If a player begins to show symptoms of COVID-19 during or after practicing or playing, he or she should be removed from the group, masked, and isolated from others. That player’s parents should be notified immediately. The player should be tested for COVID-19 if recommended by a medical professional.

If the player tests positive for COVID-19, contact tracing should begin.

  • Contact tracing attempts to identify people who have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of the athlete for more than 15 minutes while they were symptomatic, or for the two days before becoming symptomatic.
  • People who were within close contact with that athlete during that time period should isolate for 14 days.

For more information about contact tracing, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health or CDC online.

When Can an Athlete Return to Play After Getting COVID-19?

Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 can generally return to practice or play 72 hours after symptoms go away — and at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared.

Before returning to play, athletes who test positive for COVID-19 should provide a release for return to action from their licensed medical provider.

  • COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The fever must subside naturally — without the use of fever-reducing medicine — for an athlete to return to play.
  • Emerging evidence suggests that an athlete wait at least 14 days since symptoms began before returning to strenuous activity. Doctors may also recommend cardiac testing before an athlete returns to action.

For more information on the youth Return to Sports Playbook, visit UPMC Sports Medicine or email

Please place each source on it's own line, using the following HTML markup:

For Journals and Media sources:National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Enterovirus D68. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link

For News sources:Dr. Amesh Adalja. A Back to School Victim-Finding Spree for Enterovirus 68. Tracking Zebra. Link

About Sports Medicine

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