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5/29/20 blog post

does my child really need to wear a mask for sports?

Unfortunately, the short answer is “we don’t know.” As we learn more about COVID-19, how it spreads, and who is susceptible, these answers will change. We also have to consider the safety of wearing a mask during sports. How does it fit with existing protective equipment? Does it contribute to an athlete over-heating in the summer? Here are some specific examples we can definitely answer about athletes wearing masks, plus a few we can’t.


times when athletes should NOT wear a mask: 

  • Swimming, diving, and other in-water sports. Wearing a wet mask can cause breathing problems. It is not safe.
  • Cross country – This sport often occurs outdoors in warm weather, and it has high aerobic demands. The natural social distancing and outdoor environment make it harder to transmit an illness. The warm weather and high aerobic demands make it difficult to safely wear a mask without over-heating. There may be some circumstances where an athlete chooses to wear a face covering (such as a cold run in the early morning in October). However, it is safe to skip the mask most of the time.

times when athletes SHOULD wear a mask:

  • Indoors, before and after practice
  • Waiting in line for health screenings
  • Sitting the bench or standing on the sidelines (not participating)
  • Locker rooms, restrooms, athletic training room, visiting the coach’s office
  • Waiting for equipment to open up


These are times where it is possible to wear a mask, but we are unsure whether going with or without the mask poses more risk to the athlete. It is probably better for an athlete to wear one as long as they are comfortable, but remove for any heat intolerance or difficulty breathing. The answer may change day-to-day, or even during a single practice, depending on the situation. Consider temperature, proximity to other athletes, exercise intensity, practice vs competing, and indoors vs outdoors.

  • Exercise in close proximity to others, but little to no contact - Pilates, yoga, martial arts, gymnastics, strength training, golf, bowling, tennis, baseball, softball
  • Team practices - sport-specific conditioning and drills (basketball, soccer, volleyball)

the unknown: 

These are sports where it is safer for the athlete to wear a mask, but we still don’t know how to do that well or practically.

  • Football, hockey, wrestling, lacrosse, rugby – These sports have close contact with higher risk of transmission. However, a mask could interfere with equipment or change how the game is played
  • Cheerleading, dance – These are sports where athletes are in close contact, but the mask could interfere with other aspects of the sport (such as aesthetics or sound)

other considerations-

  • Coaches and officials should probably wear a mask. Consider whistle alternatives.
  • Volunteers and staff should probably wear a mask – especially those who screen participants for symptoms
  • If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 associated with someone on the team, practice may be restricted up to 14 days. Wearing masks can sometimes qualify a team to lift these restrictions sooner.
  • Spectators should definitely wear masks when indoors. Consider wearing masks outdoors if unable to keep at least 6ft spacing from other spectators who are not household contacts.

We know it is difficult to ask children and teenagers to wear masks when they are at low risk of having complications of COVID-19. It is difficult for adults too, even those at higher risk of having complications. These are not meant as restrictions. These recommendations are meant to keep sports operating as much as possible.

It will take cooperation of an entire team to make sure they do not spread illness and can all continue to participate.

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Lora Scott, MD

division chief sports medicine
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