The unintended consequences of restarting sports
Sports in Ohio officially have the OK to resume. It started gradually, with some lower risk sports. Ohio gave all sports the greenlight on June 22. However, sports restarting vary from state-to-state, sport-to-sport, and based on level of competition. All of it is driven by the risk of spreading infection. Restarting sports has led to two very predictable consequences. Although we knew these would happen, we did not know the extent. This has never happened in our lifetimes. Sports medicine specialists across the world are keeping an eye on these two issues and making recommendations as we learn about them.
Pediatric sports medicine specialists throughout the U.S. are seeing a big increase in overuse injuries during the first few weeks back to sports. Many kids were active over the quarantine, so their heart and lungs are ready to jump right back into training. However, they did different physical activities over break, and their muscles and bones are not ready for intense, sports-specific training. Now, coaches are pushing them to make up for lost time, and their bodies are breaking down.
What can you do? If your child is involved in summer sports, don’t expect much out of the season. This is going to be a ‘just have fun and get back into things’ season. Don’t be afraid to sit out for aches and pains which do not feel better with a good warm-up and stretching the next day. Use this time to ease back in, not dive head-first. It will be frustrating for kids who were at their peak before the shutdown. However, they will miss less time overall if they listen to their bodies now instead of waiting until the body is already broken down.
COVID-19 loves spreading where people are gathered in close contact. This puts athletes at an increased risk of spreading illness, as well as their coaches and officials. College athletes who reported for summer training have already had outbreaks in some of their training facilities. We know COVID-19 is less risky in populations under 15, and more risky in adults. I expect to see tighter protocols at the professional level, where outbreaks could have significantly worse consequences in the athletes. When writing these protocols, we have to consider the personal risk to the athletes if they become sick, as well as the likelihood they will spread it to others. For example, a middle school athlete may have a relatively uneventful illness. But if he or she spreads it to the entire team, coaches, referees, and spectators, it could cause more severe consequences in the community. This is a balancing act, to resume life as close to normal as possible, without causing unnecessary risk to the general population.
What can you do? Follow the sports-specific infection control written by your child’s sports governing board. For example if they are in gymnastics, then USA Gymnastics has guidelines. These guidelines will not protect you or your child from getting sick. They are written to reduce the chances of spreading infection through a team like wildfire.
- Do not go to practice if you are sick.
- Do not go to practice if you have had close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 until you test negative.
- Ask the coach about how they will handle travel to a region who is having an outbreak.
This is not how we expected 2020 to go. But take heart in knowing that we are all in this together, and your child will not be the odd one out. Every young athlete in the country is dealing with the same issues. The best way to keep youth sports going is to return slowly. Don’t let FOMO stop you from ducking out a week or two due to injury or illness. It will be better for the long-term health of young athletes if we keep the big picture in mind and make the best of what we’ve got.