Participation in sports has many known health benefits, including promoting physical fitness, mental wellness, and social interaction. Physical activity, when performed for the right amount of time and intensity, can provide benefits to the immune system. Sports can also help young athletes learn concepts of teamwork, leadership and integrity. But while the benefits of being part of a sport are clear, we also know that this school year presents a challenge – especially with the circulating COVID-19 Delta variant.
When weighting the risks and benefits of returning to fall sports this year, experts say that parents should consider the sport and setting, local disease activity, and individual circumstances, including underlying health conditions that place the athlete or household contacts at high risk for severe disease should they contract COVID-19.
“It is also important to keep in mind that the decision to participate in sports and attend sporting events is up to athletes and their families who must follow the rules and regulations from local and state authorities,” said Leanne Vallee, Physician Assistant (PA) Baystate Medical Practice-Quabbin Pediatrics in Ware. “It is important for families to understand that the risk of COVID-19 can be decreased but not eliminated by athletes, parents, coaches, and officials when following safety protocols. Parents should review the school/league COVID-19 policies and discuss them with their children, so they are aware of the expectations.”
Guidance for the 2021-22 School Year
In updated guidance for the 2021-22 school year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages all people who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine do so as soon as possible. Vaccines have yet to be approved for children younger than 12 and may not be until the end of the year.
The currently available vaccine has been shown to be safe and very effective limiting COVID-19 risks and helping reduce transmissions. Specific vaccine recommendations should be discussed with your pediatrician or health care provider.
The AAP also recommends that all school staff wear a mask, and that students 2 years old and above wear masks unless there is a medical reason not to.
In addition to taking precautions, it is important for families to report symptoms of COVID-19 in order to track and limit spread.
“Athletes, families and participants in sports have a social and moral responsibility to report symptoms of COVID-19,” said Vallee. “Self-reporting all symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will not only decrease the spread but will also help keep athletes healthy and on the field. Coaches, administrators and parents should continue to encourage athletes to self-report any symptoms.”
Before the sports season starts: 4 tips
1. Make an appointment if your child needs a sports physical prior to beginning of the season.
2. Know the guidelines: Parents should understand the safety rules and expectations of student athletes and the COVID-19 guidelines of set forth by the school and the community. Parents should discuss these guidelines with their children to help them understand them.
3. Stock up: Make sure your child has their own face mask, hand sanitizer, towel, water bottle, and tissues labeled with their names.
4. Ease in: If your child hasn't been active during COVID-19, start by easing into exercise. For sports with a lot of running, for example, consider a beginner conditioning program (such as "Couch to 5k" or "None to Run" app) a month before the season begins. This can help prevent injuries that sudden, intense activity can cause in growing children. It can also reduce the risk of heat-related illness in children and adolescents affected by obesity during the pandemic. Use this Physical Activity Checker to find out if your child gets enough physical activity.
Before going to a practice or playing in a game: 5 tips
1. Keep your child home from practice or games if they are feeling sick or have any COVID-19 symptoms and get a test if the healthcare provider recommends.
2. Remind your child to wash their hands before arriving, or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
3. Label personal sports equipment, water bottle, towels, tissues, hand sanitizer and face masks and bring them to every practice and game. Sharing water bottles is strongly discouraged.
4. Wear masks: Children not fully vaccinated should wear face masks when arriving or leaving a playing facility and when off the playing field. Regardless of vaccination status, your child should wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces, in locker rooms and in shared transportation. The AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated
5. Remind your child not to share drinks or food with teammates or friends.
“By learning and understanding the importance of taking precautions, student athletes can decrease their risk of contracting COVID 19 in school and during school sports,” said Vallee. “Parents can help young athletes understand that there will eventually be some kind of end to the current COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions and at some point life will return back to normal. Until then we are all going to have to work together to follow the rules to slow the spread.”
Leanne Vallee, a NCCPA-certified physician assistant, joins Dr. Scott Siege, medical director of Baystate Medical Practice-Quabbin Pediatrics, Dr. Lori Trask and Dr. Emily Urquhart, providing care at Baystate Medical Practice-Quabbin Pediatrics located at 83 South Street in Ware. She joins the team at BMP-Quabbin Pediatrics providing a variety of services for infant, child and adolescent health care, including physicals, wellness visits, vaccinations and advice on development, nutrition, infant feeding practices and adolescent issues. For more information or to schedule an appointment call 413-967-2040.
Learn more about pediatric primary care at Baystate Health.