One of my favorite things to do all year is watch my boys play rec little league baseball. They love it, they’re good at it, they have fun, and overall it’s a great way to get some physical activity and socialization in.
A lot changed when COVID-19 became a worry in our lives five months ago. One of the thing that changed the most for my kids – and other kids across the US – was that they were unable to play baseball for some time. While little league baseball did eventually resume, we opted out for the remaining of the season this summer. The main reason: I wanted to see what safety measures were going to be put into place, considering local numbers.
As we contemplate a return this fall, I wondered, what are the recommendations for a return to play? While the NCAA has issued guidance for collegiate sports, less was known about what recreational leagues should do to safely resume play. Several teams across the US reported cases among kids and coaches, both in rec leagues of all ages (eg, here, here, and here to list a few) and in collegiate sports. Unfortunately, no teams at the recreational level are implementing sentinel testing, so teams have to rely on self-report of covid-positive status and or symptoms. We know now that kids of all ages are susceptible to covid, but can also transmit it, but most importantly, that asymptomatic spread is a major concern for COVID-19.
All summer I looked for guidance, only to find very limited information about what should and should not happen upon resumption to play. Luckily, a league from Mercer Island (MI) in Washington State came up with some guidance that has since been adapted by the national Little League organization. Two main documents you should read (and share with your local leagues) are:
Best Practices for Creating a Local Little League® Social Distancing Plan
Mercer Island Little League Social Distancing Plan
Among the main points:
- Regular cleaning and disinfecting of shared equipment and surfaces
- Spreading out of schedules for practices and games (to minimize crowding and overlapping teams/individuals at one time)
- Limiting spectator attendance (streaming games or keeping up with games via GameChanger recommended)
- All spectators should follow best social distancing practices — stay six feet away from individuals outside their household; wear a cloth face covering; avoid direct hand or other contact with players/managers/coaches during play.
- Local Leagues may choose to minimize the exposure risk to spectators by limiting attendance to only essential volunteers and limited family members.
- Spectators should bring their own seating or portable chairs when possible
- Bathrooms: “one-in-one-out” bathroom policy (with regular disinfecting/cleaning in between uses)
- No concession stands; families encouraged to provide their own food/drink
- Players should not use the dugout unless 6′ distancing between players inside the dugout is possible
- Meetings at the plate should be eliminated OR 6′ distancing should be implemented, with masks on
- Practices should be limited to the managers/coaches and players
- Press boxes should not be utilized
- No handshakes at end of game; no huddling at culmination of game
- IF dugouts are used: players should wear cloth face coverings when in close contact areas and in places where recommended social distancing is challenging or not feasible, such as in dugouts
We all want life to return to normal. Recreational sports brings communities together, but can also be a source of infection if people are not careful. Proper safety regulations are therefore necessary to avoid further spread of COVID-19, especially in states where case numbers remain high. To engage in activities like outdoor sports like little league baseball while implementing harm reduction strategies, for example, you must:
- Avoid crowds: doable with crowd control regulations.
2. Avoid close contact: doable with physical distancing.
3. Avoid closed spaces: sports is outdoors, but you have to worry about and try to avoid bathrooms, carpools, press boxes, dugouts (especially non-well ventilated ones), indoor dining after sports, and concession stands (if any are indoors, but especially for workers).
4. Wash your hands frequently: Hard to do in park bathrooms safely, so consider having hand sanitizer available.
5. Wear your mask: Especially when 6′ distance between players/spectators/coaches, etc cannot be maintained.
6. Watch your distance: Physical distancing between all individuals at the park is essential, especially between people who are not from the same household.