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.

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.

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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

Coaches, players, and other participants in youth sports practices and games should wear masks in any indoor facility.

  • 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.
  • It may be difficult for players to wear a facemask while playing an indoor sport. However, any time without a mask should be limited to when a player is actively competing.
  • Coaches, staff, and fans should wear masks at all times indoors. Masks also are strongly encouraged when outdoors and in close contact.

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


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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

Sports bring with them a potential for injury. And if you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. We serve athletes from a wide variety of sports across every demographic: young or old, male or female, pro or amateur. We partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and over 60 high school, college, and regional teams and events. We’re working to build better athletes. We use cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques to help you recover and provide education on how to prevent injuries.