Winter youth sports restart with health precautions

Nov 7, 2020

Youth sports competitions are still prohibited in California due to COVID-19 restrictions. But recreation departments throughout SLO County say they have been getting creative in finding ways for children to get athletic.

Across the U.S., California, New Mexico and Illinois have banned youth sports from competing. Michelle Shoresman with SLO County Public Health said sporting restrictions are not up to individual counties to decide.

“As with many other areas of COVID-19 guidance, we are following the states orders and youth sports are no different,” Shoresman said.

The recent update to state health guidelines allows youth sports to resume, but not in the traditional way. 

“The main premises are as long as activities are conducted outside, they are in small cohorts or pods and aiz feet of distance can be maintained [they are allowed]," Shoresman said. "Those are kind of the basic concepts.”

Melissa Johnson with the Templeton Recreation Department said after reading through the rules, it took a lot of brainstorming, but she and other staff came up with the idea of ‘pod play,' a no-contact way of getting kids to do drills and practice without physical contact.

“It’s difficult at times," Johnson said.  "I don’t know if you have ever had to keep a group of ten-year-olds away from each other, but it works well.”

Johnson said Templeton was the first in the county to offer pod play and worked with other recreation departments such as those in San Luis Obispo and Atascadero on implementing the idea. Now, cities across the county are starting up winter pod play programs for soccer, basketball and softball. 

“Kids between the ages of five and 12 should be in the best shape of their lives," Johnson said. "We are not going to get that if they don’t go play. It doesn’t have to be organized youth sports, they just need to play.”

Johnson said although sports look much different right now, she’s relieved recreation departments can continue with some programs after months of closure. 

“We have been given an opportunity here to do something," Johnson said. "It might not be enough. But something is always better than nothing. Let's turn this into a hugely positive program.”

Shoresman said adult recreational team sports are still not permitted at this time, and that the state guidelines may change depending on what happens with COVID numbers throughout the state.