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Winter sports during COVID-19

Doctors agree that children need physical activity now more than ever – and for some, that may mean organized team or individual sports. We talked with Stuart Braun, MD, Chief of Pediatric Orthopedics at Tufts Children's Hospital about why it’s important to get your child back out there, and how to do it safely.

If parents are hesitant to get their kids back playing sports this winter, what advice would you give to them?

“Physical activity is critical for the health and wellbeing of our children. Parents should first do their homework and make sure that whichever team or organization their child may be playing for is following the guidelines set forth by the CDC,” said Dr. Braun. “The state of Massachusetts has guidelines as well. Both groups are very clear about stratifying sports with regard to risk and how to alter play in order to improve safety because of the unique risks posed this year by COVID-19. Ultimately, each family must decide what works for them, but keeping a safe routine and ensuring your child remains active is crucial to their physical and mental health.”

Is using appropriate equipment important in injury prevention?

Appropriate equipment plays a key role in injury prevention for many athletes,” said Dr. Braun. “Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see athletic and other trauma related injuries. Many of these however are occurring in the home as opposed to on the playground or sports fields. For our young winter athletes proper clothing, appropriately sized equipment and head protection are critical for safety.”

Is any type of strength or agility training recommended to help prevent injuries in young, competitive athletes?

“One of the challenges we have seen this fall are stress injuries and injuries related to improper conditioning,“ Dr. Braun explained. “Many of our fall athletes were unable to participate in their normal preseason training, and this has resulted in many muscle and tendon injuries.  Without proper preseason training, athletes are less tolerant of the intense stresses associated with competition, making them vulnerable to stress injuries. Appropriate pre-season conditioning including endurance, strength and agility training are critical, especially for higher level competitive athletes.

Should parents and young athletes be taking extra steps to clean their gear because of COVID-19?

“We know that COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through aerosolized droplets but you can also spread the virus by touching contaminated surfaces,” says Dr. Braun. “For winter athletes, that can be a problem.  Take hockey for example. There’s a fair amount of open space on the ice, but social distancing and wearing a face covering needs to be practiced in the locker room and on the bench. Habits that kids are used to such as sharing water bottles must be curtailed to stop the spread. Don’t share drinks, face coverings, helmets or any personal equipment. Air-out gear such as padding and helmets and clean and sanitize them between practices and games. Frequent hand washing is also important.  We all must wear face coverings.”

Why do you encourage children to exercise or play sports right now?

“I think we learned last spring how difficult it is to not be physically active,” says Dr. Braun. “We all need to stay healthy this winter, this is true not just from a physical perspective, but also in terms of our mental health.  We hardy New Englanders know how difficult our winters can be, staying active and getting outside is really critical. Skiing, skating, and hiking are all wonderful ways to safely enjoy the outdoors this winter. And it bears repeating – wear a face covering and follow the recommended guidelines pertaining to COVID-19.”

More information about the CDC’s guidelines on youth sports and COVID-19 can be found here.