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Sport and Competition

What Parents Should Know About COVID-19 in Youth Sports

Guidelines to keep young athletes safe and healthy.

Key points

  • Parents have a preseason role in preparing their children for sport participation.
  • Children and adolescents who test positive for COVID-19 should follow CDC-approved guidelines for isolation.
  • Returning to sports after a COVID-19 infection requires collaboration between parents, their family doctor, and their young athlete.
  • Implement behavior guidelines to keep kids safe and healthy before, during, and after sports practices and competitions.
“Youth basketball, cheerleading seasons come to a close” by USAG-Humphreys, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Source: “Youth basketball, cheerleading seasons come to a close” by USAG-Humphreys, licensed under CC BY 2.0

COVID-19 was discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and it quickly spread around the world. Like most Americans, I want to put the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past and move on. But reality dictates that youth sport parents should be aware of some ongoing issues. Accordingly, behavioral guidelines for keeping young athletes safe and healthy are presented below.

Before the Sport Season Starts

  • Understand the COVID-19 safety rules of your child’s sports program, and talk about what they mean with your child.
  • Have your child participate in a preseason conditioning program to ensure they are physically fit to play sports.
  • Make an appointment with your family doctor for your child’s preparticipation physical evaluation (sports physical).

Testing Positive for COVID-19

If your child tests positive for the disease, notify their coach so they can take appropriate actions according to local policies and protocols. Additionally, the following CDC guidelines should be followed:

  • Regardless of vaccination status, the COVID-19-positive individual should isolate at home for a minimum of five days.
  • After the isolation days have passed, isolation may be concluded if the individual is asymptomatic or symptoms are improving. Those with a fever must remain in isolation until a minimum of 24 hours have passed while off of fever-reducing medication.
  • Individuals who test positive must mask when around others for a full 10-day period.

Returning to Sports After COVID-19 Infection

If your child tests positive, notify your family doctor. The doctor can advise how long they need to wait before returning to exercise or sports. This will be based on how severe their symptoms are and whether they develop signs of a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is a rare but serious condition in which different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.

  • Children and adolescents with no symptoms or mild symptoms of COVID-19 and no symptoms of MIS-C need to have a phone, telemedicine, or in-person visit with their family doctor. They will tell you how long to isolate and advise your child not to exercise during that time.
  • Those with moderate symptoms of COVID-19 and no signs of MIS-C should have an in-person visit with their doctor. Moderate symptoms are (a) 4 or more days of fever over 100.4 F, (b) a week or more of muscle aches, (c) chills or fatigue, or (d) a hospital stay that wasn’t in the intensive care unit (ICU). Youngsters should not exercise until their symptoms are gone, and they are seen by their doctor.
  • Children and adolescents who were very sick from COVID-19 or diagnosed with MIS-C must be treated as though they have an inflamed heart muscle. Because they needed to stay in the ICU, they may need other tests depending on signs and symptoms. Before your child leaves the hospital, make a plan to follow up with a cardiologist. The protocol will include (a) restricting exercise for at least three to six months and (b) gradually increasing physical activity based on your child’s age and how severe the symptoms are.

Prior to Practices and Competitions

If your child has any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, (a) keep them home from practices or games, and (b) consult your family doctor for testing guidance. In addition, here are some basic guidelines to follow.

  • Remind your child to wash their hands before arriving or use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Bring labeled (with name) personal sports equipment, water bottle, towel, tissues, hand sanitizer, and a face mask if COVID-19 community levels indicate use.

During Practices and Competitions

There’s no universal blueprint on how to enforce social distancing in sports. Therefore, guidelines for specific sports should be followed. With regard to the use of face masks, when there’s a “high” COVID-19 community level, the CDC recommends that athletes, coaches, officials, and spectators wear a mask indoors, even if vaccinated and boosted.

  • This includes wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces like locker rooms, shared transportation, walking to and from the playing area, between practice drills, and on the sidelines.
  • If your child takes off their mask during a break indoors, they should stay at least three feet away from everyone else.

When there’s a “medium” COVID-19 community level, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask indoors if an athlete or someone on the team or within their home is immunocompromised or considered high risk. However, masks should not be worn for the following:

  • Water sports, such as swimming, diving, and water polo.
  • Certain exercises in competitive cheerleading and gymnastics. The goal is to avoid the risk of masks getting caught on equipment, creating a choking hazard, or blocking vision.
  • Wrestling.

CDC guidelines also specify that exceptions to mask-wearing may be appropriate when the risk of heat-related illness is increased. Finally, to help protect everyone,

  • Avoid huddles, high-fives, fist bumps, handshakes, etc.
  • Do not share food or drink with teammates.
  • Avoid cheering, chanting, or singing when closer than six to eight feet from others.
  • Don’t spit or blow your nose without a tissue.
  • Minimize sharing sports equipment when possible.
  • If an athlete isn’t feeling well, they should tell a coach and leave the practice or game with a parent or caregiver.

After Practices and Competitions

Here are some post-participation guidelines to follow.

  • Wash or sanitize hands.
  • Wash or replace face masks, towels, and practice clothes or uniforms.
  • Clean personal sports equipment and water bottles.

Important: Talk with your family doctor if you have questions about your child’s health and sports participation.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2022). COVID-19 Interim guidance: Return to sports and physical activity.

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2022). Youth sports: COVID safety checkup.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Considerations for youth sports. Retrieved by googling “Considerations for Youth Sports - CDC stacks”

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