Boy wearing mask

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 November 2021

More people are returning to sports and activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With that happening, you might wonder if young athletes can stop wearing facemasks while playing sports.

At this time, UPMC Sports Medicine specialists recommend that youth athletes still wear facemasks while playing sports — even when they are outside — if they are unable to maintain physical distancing.

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When Should Youth Athletes Wear Facemasks?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health lifted its universal mask mandate in June 2021. However, local businesses, organizations, and schools can impose their own mask guidelines for athletes, coaches, fans, and other attendees of sporting events. You should follow any local laws or rules regarding mask-wearing.

The COVID-19 vaccine is currently available for Americans 5 and older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says anyone over the age of 2 who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in indoor public settings. Also, the CDC recommends that anyone in a K-12 school wear a facemask — even if fully vaccinated. On Aug. 31, 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Health mandated that students, teachers, and staff of K-12 schools wear masks indoors. The order went into effect Sept. 7.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), athletes should wear facemasks over their noses and mouths and continue to maintain physical distance when:

  • In group training.
  • During competition, if possible.
  • On the sidelines, bench, or in dugouts.
  • Participating in team huddles.
  • Going to and from the field, court, gym, locker room, or pool.
  • Sharing transportation, such as on the bus to and from events.

In addition, the AAP stresses that facemasks be worn:

  • When players cannot stay at least 6 feet apart.
  • In prolonged, close contact with others.
  • At practices and games held indoors.

When Can Youth Athletes Remove Their Facemasks?

Athletes may not have to wear a mask if it would cause a medical condition or exacerbate an existing one, such as trouble breathing.

The AAP says masks may be removed when participating in certain activities, such as:

  • Water sports like swimming and diving, since wet facemasks are more difficult to breathe through. For the same reason, masks that become soaked with sweat should be changed right away.
  • Sports in which facemasks could pose a safety risk, like gymnastics, cheerleading, tumbling, and wrestling. In these sports, there is a chance the facemask could get caught on equipment and create a choking hazard, or accidentally cover eyes and block vision.
  • Some outdoor sports, such as golf and singles tennis, as long as the athletes can keep a safe physical distance from others.

UPMC Guidance on Facemasks During Sports

Check out this short video from UPMC Sports Medicine to see a few situations in which it’s a good idea for young athletes to sport their masks.

To help kids remember to wear facemasks, adults — coaches, officials, volunteers, and spectators — should set a good example by always wearing facemasks to protect themselves and others.

At UPMC Sports Medicine, a multidisciplinary team of experts developed the Return to Sports Playbooks. These are guidelines to help coaches, athletic trainers, and organizers create safe environments for athletes, fans, and staff as they return to play amid COVID-19.

The playbooks contain recommendations for establishing a set of standards to get youth, high school, and collegiate athletes back to the sports they love in the safest manner possible. Download the playbooks free of charge.

Please continue to consult and follow the most up-to-date guidelines from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the CDC.

For more information, please call UPMC Sports Medicine at 1-855-937-7678 or complete our contact form.

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.