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Getting Back in the Game During COVID-19

Considerations for Youth Athletes

For many youth athletes, sports are not just an extracurricular activity; sports are everything. Because the COVID-19 pandemic put in-person play on the bench, your child is likely anxious for sports to resume. However, return-to-play must be approached carefully to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep athletes, coaches and families healthy.

“We all know that playing sports is important to the physical, mental and emotional wellness of our youth athletes,” says Northwestern Medicine Emergency Medicine Physician George T. Chiampas, DO, CAQSM, FACEP, and U.S. Soccer chief medical officer. “In consideration of how COVID-19 is transmitted, it is vitally important that everyone involved in the process of return-to-play does so with extreme diligence and attention to medical guidelines.”

While guidelines may vary based on your location, school district or club, and sport, if your child is returning to playing sports, here are some key considerations.

Sick? Sit It Out

Dr. Chiampas says that regardless of your child’s symptoms, if they are sick, they should stay home from practice or games.

If your child is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, they should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and self-quarantine for 14 days. Your child should receive clearance from their physician before returning to playing sports.

Also, if your child has been in close contact (within 6 feet) with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they should self-quarantine for 14 days and not return to practice or play until they have a negative COVID-19 test and clearance from their physician.

If your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms, they should not play until they have medical clearance:

  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • Fever greater than 100.4 degrees F
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Sinus congestion
  • Persistent cough, or cough producing mucus
  • Joint aches and soreness
  • Vomiting

Skip the Huddle

Ideally, your child should maintain a 6-foot distance from other athletes. This means skipping team huddles and high fives. Parents spectating should also follow physical distancing guidelines, and sit or stand 6 feet apart.

If you’re a parent who likes to stay and watch outdoor practices, consider watching from your car instead of on the field.

Keep It Clean

Follow the CDC’s guidelines for hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE), including wearing a face covering. Encourage your child to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. Encourage proper hand hygiene, including washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Though spitting is a part of the game for many athletes, discourage it, as COVID-19 is known to spread through respiratory droplets.

When possible, use individual equipment. Discourage your child from sharing equipment with others, especially water bottles and towels.

Clean your child’s equipment with an antibacterial solution of at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol after each practice and game, and check in with their club or school district to ensure that all gear is being properly sanitized after each use.

Talk to your child’s coach about minimizing the use of unnecessary equipment, such as practice bibs, during practice.

Keep Communicating

Parents and coaches should be open and honest about any possible COVID-19 exposures their families have had. Keep the communication lines open to ensure that all teammates are following COVID-19 prevention guidelines from the CDC, such as masking.

Returning to play is a personal choice.
— George T. Chiampas, DO

“Returning to play is a personal choice, and you and your child should feel comfortable determining for yourself if you would like to resume activities in a small group environment,” says Dr. Chiampas. “I recommend that all participants — coaches, parents, players, administrators — communicate with their club or coaches to better understand the safety policies in place and work together to protect against the spread of COVID-19.”

For more information on the U.S. Soccer return-to-play guidelines, visit

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George T. Chiampas, DO
George T. Chiampas, DO
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Assistant Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty Emergency Medicine
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