National Academy of Athletics continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on Youth Sports and is following strict protocols to begin running programs. The question is who should we listen to and what procedures should we follow when reintroducing youth sports to communities? Who can be trusted? The NAofA is following the guidelines of the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the Aspen Institute, and the local Public Health Official Guidelines in every community in which they hold Youth Sports Camps.

CDC logo for COVID-19 information
link to Aspen Institute for COVID-19 information

CREDIBLE SOURCES ON COVID-19

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on youth sports. By examining different credible information sources, the NAofA has begun to deliberate on when and how to reintroduce organized activities. Project Play, an initiative of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, believes that there are four factors shaping our decisions. These four factors are: (1) what the local and state authorities allow, (2) what leading sport and public health bodies recommend, (3) what liability risks exist, and (4) what parents and the immediate community will accept. These four factors go hand in hand when preparing for the successful and safe return of youth sports.

REGULATIONS FOR YOUTH SPORTS

The Council of State Governments has created an interactive tool for tracking State Reopening Plans. It has credible information on the current guidelines for all 50 States. Still, every region has extensively different variables at play. The regulations that local authorities have established should be at the forefront of our minds.

Aside from the governing entities, public health bodies have ample resources that shed light on safe procedures for athletic programs. CDC Youth Sports Checklist for COVID-19 illustrates a step by step guide for re-opening and monitoring our youth programs and camps. Also, leading sport bodies have acknowledged that every sport comes with its own set of implications. Therefore, we must treat each one on a case by case basis. The Aspen Institute generated a Sport Return To Play Risk Assessment. This assessment tool evaluates low, medium, and high risk behaviors when participating in a specific sport. This resource will be updated on a weekly basis with changes and additional sports and activities. In addition to the varying degree of risk in each activity, it is important to note that some sports have lower risk than others and those might start earlier.

MINDFUL OF IMPACT ON LIABILITIES

COVID-19’s impact includes additional liabilities that agencies should be mindful.  Steven Bank is a UCLA School of Law Vice Dean and sports liability expert who weighed in on this topic. He stated that receiving an all clear from Public Health Authorities is not an all clear for your liability risk legally. He continued to say, “In order to safely open youth sports programs, we have a duty to apply a degree of caution that a reasonable person would practice in order to decrease our company’s risk. What is considered reasonable is subjective, so following our local instructions and community norms can be our best guide.” In Steven Bank’s portion of Project Play’s Discussion Video, he emphasizes that new waivers for COVID-19 should be crafted and presented to the customer separate from previous ones.

The National Academy of Athletics has carefully crafted a new waiver and privacy policy, along with very detailed procedures to hopefully prevent any spread of the virus. “We need to keep our kids, coaches, and parents safe while also allowing kids to play and have fun,” stated Aaron Locks, CEO of the NAofA. He continued, “This has been incredibly difficult on the children. They were pulled out of school, away from their friends and told they had to stay at home. We know the importance of playing youth sports. Youth sports build skills such as teamwork, leadership, and responsibility.  They also teach important life lessons such as competition, perseverance, and sportsmanship. Our camps teach kids how to cope through challenges and will boost their self-esteem and confidence. We cannot let them miss out on this important part of their growth.”

HOW DO PARENTS FEEL

The last piece of this complex puzzle is understanding how parents are feeling and what they are willing to accept.  A recent survey came out by North Carolina State University, in partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, Utah State University and George Mason University.  It reported statistics on the mindset of parents to children who participate in youth sports. It revealed that 50% of youth sports parents worry their children will get sick and 46% are concerned that they, in turn, will be infected also. Recognizing what the parents in our communities feel comfortable with can assist us in making the return to youth sports successful for everyone involved.

Youth sports action shot

YOUTH SPORTS IMPACT ON KIDS

The NAofA must balance the current constraints in the country while helping serve the diverse interests of the youth in over 90 communities. They will continue to offer the Virtual Sports Camps online, as well as taking registrations for their traditional Sports Day Camps. The impact of COVID-19 on youth sports will not deter the NAofA from their mission to provide programs to children throughout the year. Even during these difficult times they believe they can help kids have an active, happy, and healthy lifestyle.