Youth Sports and COVID-19: Calling the Play for Your Child

By Jon Solomon
Youth Sports and COVID-19: Teenage girl in her softball uniform posing with a healthcare mask to protect her from the Coronavirus

These are unusual times for families entering the fall sports season. The COVID-19 pandemic has left parents uncertain about the reopening of schools and their child participating in youth sports.

Only 53% of parents expect their child to resume sports activity at the same or higher amount when current restrictions are removed, according to a recent parent survey by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative and Utah State University. That’s down from 70% in early May from a similar survey by North Carolina State University in partnership with Project Play.

What’s at Play with Youth Sports and COVID-19

We all want kids to play sports again given the physical, social, emotional and academic benefits that research shows comes with physical activity. The good news is our research findings show that nine out of 10 parents value the positive physical, social and mental health outcomes for their child in sports over the competitive aspects of play.

But any return to play must happen responsibly. As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in several states, doctors and scientists warn that the pandemic will get much worse without the U.S. getting the virus under control.

Public health experts stress that youth sports should return in a phased approach, based on local and state conditions, and with approval from health departments.

Many sports can be practiced independently or with small groups with appropriate social distancing and other guidelines. Experts also strongly discourage in-state and regional travel for large tournaments, although this is commonplace in youth sports.

Some sports—such as golf, tennis and running—are much easier to return than high-contact sports. For instance, football is one of the most challenging sports to play during the pandemic. Project Play created a Return to Play Risk Assessment tool that evaluates over 25 sports and activities based on lowest, medium and highest risks.

How to Decide if your Child Should Return to Youth Sports

As a parent, it’s important that you ask about COVID-19 preparedness before your child returns to sports. Project Play created a list of eight questions—compiled with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—parents can ask to evaluate what to do.

  • Is my child or are household members more vulnerable to becoming ill from COVID-19?
  • Has my child’s program shared a detailed plan for COVID-19 risk mitigation?
  • Is the program embracing a phased approach to re-opening?
  • How will the program identify players or coaches who are potentially infected?
  • How do I determine if my child is infected and should avoid participation?
  • Is my child old enough to understand the reasons for maintaining physical distancing?
  • What mask procedures are in place for my child’s program?
  • How comfortable am I signing a COVID-19 waiver?

If your child returns, it’s important to remember that different sports have different benefits. Returning to youth sports won’t be easy. In many cases, it will be a personal decision and vary by communities. So we all have to work together and practice patience to come back safely and responsibly.

Jon Solomon is editorial director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. Learn more about Project Play, the program’s youth sports initiative, at

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