Boy wearing mask

Warmer weather is approaching, and more people are returning to outdoor sports and activities.

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?

Under the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) universal mask mandate, all coaches, athletes, and spectators must wear facemasks — with limited exceptions.

Masks must be worn at all times indoors, including during active competition, workouts, and on the sidelines. Masks must be worn at all times outdoors, unless six feet of physical distancing can be maintained consistently.

On March 3, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines for mask-wearing during sports. The AAP recommends that athletes 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 six feet apart.
  • In prolonged, close contact with others.
  • At practices and games held indoors.

When Can Youth Athletes Remove Their Facemasks?

The Pennsylvania DOH’s mask mandate provides some exceptions that could apply in sports. 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.

Pennsylvania issued its current mask requirements in July 2020. The state may change these guidelines as the medical and scientific communities understand more about COVID-19. Please continue to consult and follow the most up-to-date guidelines from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

About Sports Medicine

Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.