Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments. 

Updated Nov. 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic put youth sports on pause across the United States. But with states beginning to reopen, many youth sports leagues are preparing to return as well.

Many parents may be wondering if it’s now safe for their children to play organized team sports during COVID-19.

UPMC Sports Medicine has developed a Return to Sports Playbook to help youth sports organizations that are preparing to resume play.

“In order to continue to do the things that we love in a thoughtful and safe manner, there are some guidelines that help to mitigate or to lessen the risk,” says Jeanne Doperak, DO, a UPMC Primary Care sports medicine physician.

Although these recommendations were developed by a team of UPMC experts, we cannot guarantee prevention of illness or injury. These guidelines also should not overrule any federal or state guidelines in place during COVID-19. Youth sports organizations are responsible for putting their own safeguards into place.

Guidelines should be followed in all practices and competitions in order to maintain the safety of players, coaches, family members, and others.

These recommendations are subject to change as we learn more about COVID-19. Please continue to look for updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Updated: As of Nov. 18, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health orders all sports participants — athletes (including cheerleaders), coaches, and spectators — over the age of 2 years old to wear face coverings. Exceptions include if wearing a face covering could cause a medical condition or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that could make it difficult to breathe. See below for further details.

What Should I Ask on a Pre-Participation Physical?

The organization your child plays in may require a physical to play.

As part of a well child exam, your child’s pediatrician should take note of any recent illnesses and ask whether your child had any known exposure to COVID-19.

If your child has tested positive for COVID-19, ask your pediatrician about whether your child should have cardiac testing done before he or she returns to play.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Bringing Youth Sports Back in Phases

Because of the lengthy shutdown due to COVID-19, many players may need conditioning before returning to play. The NCAA recommends a six-week acclimatization period to allow athletes to build up conditioning levels.

The six-week conditioning period can be broken down into three phases. The phases should be conducted carefully to prevent potential disease spread by asymptomatic carriers.

  • Phase one: Because youth sports participants usually are from the same area, a 14-day isolation period is not required. However, we encourage a COVID-19 education program to inform players, coaches, staff, and parents about COVID-19 symptoms, spread, and prevention methods. Look for information from the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
  • Phase Two: Youth sports organizations should hold two weeks of individual or team practices with a maximum of 25 individuals, including coaches. If possible, try to hold practices to a maximum of 10 people.
  • Phase Three: If the presence of COVID-19 in the community is trending downward and no team members have a confirmed case of COVID-19 during phase two, teams can move on to games and competitions. Games and competitions should have a maximum of 50 participants at one time, including coaches.
    • Tournaments may have more than 50 athletes. However, no more than 50 people should be competing on the playing surface at the same time.

Social Distancing in Youth Sports

It’s important for youth sports organizations to follow COVID-19 prevention methods like social distancing and avoiding contact.

  • Organizations should encourage at least 6 feet of distance at all times when action is not taking place.
  • Before returning to play, examine your facilities for ways to keep social distancing intact. Mark off 6-foot increments in potentially high-traffic areas like benches, bleachers, concession stands, and restrooms.
  • Players should avoid sitting in dugouts if possible. If players are sitting on a bench, try to keep them at least 6 feet away from each other. During drills and other activities that require closer contact, try to maintain 6 feet of distance between other players and coaches.
  • Avoid unnecessary contact during practice and games. This includes high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps, and elbow bumps.

Sanitizing Equipment in Youth Sports

  • All equipment should be cleaned after each use by players, coaches, and others.
  • Players should not share gear. If possible, they should use personal equipment.
  • Do not share water bottles or other hydration containers. Each player should use his or her own container, which should be clearly marked.
  • Organizations should have hand sanitizer on supply at its facilities, and it should be available for use before, during, and after games and practices.
  • Restrooms and other high-traffic areas should be cleaned and sanitized frequently.

Personal Protective Equipment in Youth Sports

Update: As of Nov. 18, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health requires all sports participants to wear face coverings. This includes athletes (including cheerleaders), coaches, and spectators.

  • Indoors: Per the order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, athletes, coaches, and spectators must wear face coverings while indoors. This includes when athletes are actively involved in competition, workouts, or on the sidelines.
  • Outdoors: Per the order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, athletes, coaches, and spectators must wear face coverings if they cannot maintain consistent physical distance (6 feet or more) from people who are not members of their household. This includes wearing facemasks while actively engaged in competition, workouts, on the sidelines, etc. If people can consistently maintain 6 feet of physical distancing, they can remove their face coverings.

Exceptions can be found under Section 3B of the order and include instances when wearing a face covering could cause a medical condition or exacerbate a new one, including respiratory problems.

Cloth facemasks are recommended, although surgical facemasks and N95 respirators also can be used. Follow CDC masking guidelines. Masks should cover the wearer’s nose and mouth while allowing for unlabored breathing.

Because wearing gloves has not been shown to reduce spread of COVID-19, we do not recommend their use. Instead, everyone should practice frequent handwashing — either with soap and water or with hand sanitizer.

For more information about the Return to Sports Playbook for youth organizations, visit UPMC Sports Medicine. If you have questions, email ReturnToSports@upmc.edu.

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

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.