Return to Play Risk Assessment Prepares Athletes for Sports

The Aspen Institute's Health, Medicine & Society Program partnered with its Sports & Society Program to develop a risk assessment to help athletes, coaches and parents get back into sports after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.

Kids need at least one hour of physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but with the stay-at-home restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, how kids are getting their 60 minutes of activity has changed. After all, group sports are on hold, and while many young athletes — and their coaches — are eager to get back out on the field, there are several safety considerations to keep in mind.

“I think the challenge is we are going to be in this peri-COVID period for a significant amount of time where we don’t have a perfect treatment for the coronavirus, nor do we have a vaccine. So we’re going to have to work with everybody in the sports-related field and mitigate risk for athletes, the players, the coaches and the staff that are all going to be exposed to each other as we move forward in some aspects of return to play,” says Dr. Karen Sutton, an orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Stamford, Connecticut.

To help those in the sports field navigate this unprecedented time, the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine & Society Program partnered with its Sports & Society Program to produce a “Return to Play” risk assessment resource.

“These are uncharted waters, and a lot of groups are entering into it — sport providers, medical people, kids and parents. And parents want the kids to be active, but they don’t necessarily always know how to do that in this environment, how to get their kid playing sports again in some form or another, meeting the child’s demand or appetite for sport,” says Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Aspen Institute Sport & Society Program. “So, we created a risk assessment that would help guide them to understand that there are a lot of activities that kids can participate in, even in team sports, that are going to limit the spread of transmission or contraction of the virus.”

This evolving tool — which is based on CDC guidelines and was reviewed by experts from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Hospital for Special Surgery — provides at-a-glance guidance to safely participating in a number of activities and sports, including bicycling, lacrosse, soccer and swimming. It will be updated regularly.

Read on for more about this risk assessment and how to get your kids back in the game safely.

About the assessment

The risk assessment includes information on three risk types: lowest, medium and highest. The Aspen Institute suggests participating in the lowest risk activities at this time.

Activities considered “lowest risk” include individual exercise or at-home training done solo or with household members using sanitized equipment that you own.

“Medium risk” activities include public exercise or training, which is done alone or with a household member. This includes using sanitized equipment that you own, or individual exercise or training in public with non-shared household members — done physically distant from one another.

The “highest risk” activities include group play or training with those who are non-household members. These activities are not physically distant and include sharing equipment.

Easing into activity

“Kids who are physically active are one-tenth as likely to be obese, more likely to do well in school, they are more likely to go on to college, they have lower chronic disease rates, they are more likely to become active parents and have lower health care costs as they get older and, because they are active parents, they are more likely to have active kids,” Farrey says. “There’s this incredibly virtuous cycle that can be engaged if we can just get kids off the couch without running them into the ground at an early age.”

If kids haven’t been as active as they usually are during this time, it’s important to ease them back in to sports. Developing your own stay-at-home workout is key.

“I think it’s important for athletes to develop a multimodal approach to their workouts to include the basics of cardio — whether running, stationary bike, etc. — strength and conditioning, speed and agility,” Sutton says.

Instead of logging on YouTube for exercises, Sutton suggests watching videos from national bodies of sport that have put together virtual workouts with the help of top athletes.

Virtual fitness or PE classes on social media and group participation platforms (such as Zoom, Skype and Instagram) are other ways to get involved.

You can keep it simple, too, Farrey notes. “With organized sports not dominating our lives, there’s more room for free play,” he says.

Pull out that old basketball hoop or draw hopscotch on the sidewalk. There are plenty of ways to interact and get moving — and parents should get involved too.

“Get moving, no matter where you are,” Sutton says. “Sometimes simple is better — and just have fun.”

Content brought to you by Project Play: Southeast Michigan. For more information, visit


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