Health and Safety For Indoor Sports
Even as Friday night lights blaze across football fields, the bleachers are getting colder, and we’re getting excited about the winter sports season that will take our athletes and spectators indoors. Basketball, swimming, hockey, and many other activities will keep the fighting spirit going in spite of the chilly weather. This exciting time is full of cheer and sportsmanship, but it also comes with some very real risks associated specifically with indoor athletics. Let’s talk about some of these considerations!
During the summer, athletes don’t always need to visit the locker room after a game or sporting event because the weather accommodates uniforms, and it often makes more sense to head home for a shower. Come winter, locker rooms become an essential part of the athletic experience. Unfortunately, these spaces are rarely well-ventilated, and even the most dedicated facilities maintenance staff cannot keep up with the onslaught of bacteria and germs that breed in this environment. Combined with the fact that adult supervision is also difficult to maintain, the whole thing can become a health hazard. So, here are a few tips to impart to your young athletes and fans to help them stay safe:
Pack flip flops into your gym bag to avoid going barefoot and getting a foot fungus.
Bring a plastic bag to put all dirty clothes in as soon as you take them off – don’t just drop them on the floor.
Don’t share personal items such as deodorant and soap, no matter how close you are with your teammates.
If you notice signs of alarming behavior, like bullying, hazing, vandalism, or self-harm, alert an adult as soon as possible.
Viral Transmission Indoors
We may feel warm and cozy in a crowd, but so do viruses and bacteria. When we pack into a gym to watch a sporting event, we increase the risk of airborne transmission of sickness because it’s so much harder to maintain social distancing for both spectators and athletes. Here are some useful things to consider regarding indoor crowds:
Mask up! If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that well-fitting high quality face masks (such as a N95 or KN95) lower the risk of spreading illness.
Do your best to put some distance between you and other people: choose your seats wisely and communicate if someone is getting too close.
Ask the event sponsors about ventilation within the space. Suggest propping open doors and cracking windows, if possible.
High-Touch Areas and Equipment
Indoor athletics feature lots of high-touch areas: locker rooms, folding chairs, bleachers, weight-lifting equipment, exercise mats, shared and borrowed gear, etc. These items often get damp and are stored in cramped spaces, creating the perfect environment for mold, bacteria, and viruses. Check out these tips for avoiding potential risks:
Portable sanitizing wipes are your best friends! Wipe down the chairs you sit in and the equipment you use before and after!
Review proper handwashing techniques with your young ones. Keep nails trimmed.
Coaches, parents, and sponsors: make sure to provide hand sanitizer and cleaning solution at all events and in all public spaces
Other Indoor Considerations
While there is no longer a risk of heat-related illness once we are indoors, temperature variations can still pose a risk. Gyms tend to get overheated, especially when they are crowded. Intense physical activity in this environment can lead to higher levels of dehydration, so athletes should be encouraged to drink more water than they normally would outside. A related concern is that of proper layering when exiting the exercise space. A sudden drop in warmth can cause higher vulnerability to virus transmission, and feeling chilly after sweating is certainly unpleasant.
On a more social-emotional level, it’s also important to remember that once we are inside, our voices carry much better than they do in a field. And so, reviewing proper etiquette, sportsmanship, and civil language with young athletes (and ourselves) is a really good idea during this transition to indoor athletic spaces.
Just because mosquitoes and sun exposure are no longer a concern, does not mean that health and safety guidelines are on break. Stay smart, stay vigilant, and have a great winter season!