Is it Safe for My Kid to Return to Playing Sports?

At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we understand that sports play a huge part in the lives of many families across Georgia. And while the prevalence of COVID-19 in children throughout Atlanta remains low, cases of COVID-19 are still being diagnosed every day. So, we want to help make sure families are taking the necessary precautions for their child or teen to return to sports safely and continue to slow the spread of the virus.

David L. Marshall, MD, Medical Director of the Sports Medicine Program at Children’s, is a member of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Medical Advisory Board. The group meets weekly to discuss recommendations from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Federal of State High School Associations (NFHS) on how student athletes in the 427 schools they oversee should be returning to sports safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most important thing is avoiding coming in contact with a respiratory droplet with the virus in it,” explains Dr. Marshall.

Respiratory droplet transmission occurs when a person is in close contact (within 3 to 6 feet) of someone who has respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing. Therefore, transmission of COVID-19 can happen when your kid is in direct contact with someone who is infected, when there’s indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate area or with objects used by the infected person, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The most important thing is avoiding coming in contact with a respiratory droplet with the virus in it.”–David L. Marshall, MD, Pediatric Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician

What sports are at a higher risk for spreading COVID-19?

There are some sports that have a higher risk for spreading coronavirus than others. In April 2020, the NFHS released a report that explains which sports are at a high, moderate or low risk of spreading COVID-19.

  • High risk sports involve close, sustained contact between athletes, a lack of significant protective barriers and a higher chance that respiratory droplets can be shared between participants. These sports may include wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance.
  • Moderate risk sports involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory droplets being shared between athletes, recurring close contact, group sports or sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned between use. These sports may include basketball, volleyball*, baseball*, softball*, soccer, water polo, gymnastics*, ice hockey, field hockey, tennis*, swimming relays, pole vault*, high jump*, long jump*, girls lacrosse, crew with two or more rowers in shell and seven on seven football.
  • Low risk sports can be done with social distancing, individually with no sharing of equipment or with the ability to clean equipment between use. These sports may include individual running events, throwing events (javelin, shot put, discus), individual swimming, golf, weightlifting, alpine skiing, sideline cheer, single sculling, cross-country running (with staggered starts).

“It’s important to think of areas in these sports where social distancing may not be possible,” adds Dr. Marshall. “And be sure to discuss these options with your child’s coach. Advocating for their safety should be your top priority.”

How can I protect my child or teen at practice?

If your child or teen is returning to practice, here are some precautions we recommend:

  • Maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet throughout practice.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Encourage your child to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Don’t share equipment at all. Bring your child’s personal equipment and any backup equipment if needed, such as an extra water bottle, mouth guard, bat or glove.
  • Make sure coaches are sanitizing balls between each use. Only two kids should be throwing a ball at any time. Afterward, it should be sanitized.
  • Don’t allow athletes to sit on the bench together in the dugout or on the sidelines.
  • Don’t allow kids to spit, chew gum or eat sunflower seeds.
  • Don’t allow kids to share food.
  • Encourage kids to wear masks when they are not actively practicing or playing.
  • Don’t hang out before or after practice.
  • Don’t allow kids to celebrate with handshakes, high-fives or fist bumps.
  • If your child does not feel well, they should stay home.
  • Ask your child’s coach what protocols are in place if a teammate is diagnosed with COVID-19. Make sure you understand how the league is going to manage the possible spread of illness.

“It’s important to think of areas in your child’s sports where social distancing may not be possible.”–David L. Marshall, MD, Pediatric Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician

How do I protect my child or teen and family at games?

The precautions players and coaches are taking during practices should also be considered during games. In addition, there are recommendations families and spectators should consider before, during and after games.

  • Practice social distancing. Maintain a 6-foot distance between players, as well as spectators and families.
  • Bring extra hand sanitizer and use it frequently after touching surfaces.
  • Bring extra masks and wear one during the game, or as much as possible.
  • Elderly family members shouldn’t attend practices or games.
  • Bring your own sunscreen, first aid kit and gloves.
  • Bring an extra mouthguard in case your child’s falls off or falls out. Don’t rely on the coach to borrow one.
  • Don’t congregate in the parking lot before or after a game.
  • Stay in your car until the field and spectator area is clear if you’re waiting on another team to finish their game before your child’s.
  • Stay home if you don’t feel well or have any symptoms, such as a fever, cough, sore throat, or a fever accompanied by nausea, diarrhea or abdominal pain.

Watch Dr. Marshall explain how to keep your athlete safe as they return to sports during the COVID-19 pandemic

What if my kid gets hurt during practice or a game?

If your child or teen experiences a sports-related injury or illness after returning to practices or games, it’s important to have them seen quickly.

“We are seeing an uptick in visits to our office because kids are getting injured,” Dr. Marshall says. “They were deconditioned after being away from sports for months.”

Children’s specializes in the care of growing athletes. Our Sports Medicine Program is one of the only programs in the country dedicated exclusively to caring for youth and teen athletes. Our trusted team of pediatric sports medicine primary care physicians, orthopedic surgeons, sports physical therapists and certified athletic trainers is trained in age-appropriate techniques and focused on treating sports-related injuries and conditions in elite young athletes.

We are also taking precautions to make sure kids and families are safe if they have to go into an office for an appointment.

Find a pediatric sports medicine specialist and learn more about our program

*Could potentially be considered low risk sports with the appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.

Due to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, this information may change. Check back for updates.

David L. Marshall, MD, a Pediatric Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician, is board-certified in pediatrics and sports medicine. His expertise lies in the diagnosis and management of nonsurgical musculoskeletal injuries in growing athletes. Dr. Marshall is Medical Director of the Sports Medicine Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an adjunct clinical professor in the Department of Orthopedics at Emory University. He is on the medical advisory board for the Georgia High School Association and is a founding member of the Pediatric Research in Sports Medicine (PRiSM) organization. Currently, he is focused on performance enhancement through the use of video motion and physical therapy.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.