US Lacrosse has released a set of return-to-play recommendations aimed to assist recreational and travel league coaches and organizers in mitigating the risk for participants in the COVID-19 environment.
The return to play guidelines from the sports’ national governing body center on a five-stage process that will vary from different regions based on recommendations and allowances from local and state public health authorities.
“This is a great thing to have,” said AJ Sainato, who runs the Amsterdam Rugged Lacrosse Academy. “A lot of people were looking for a blueprint to provide the safest environment for kids.”
The recommendations were developed by a medical advisory committee, chaired by Dr. Eugene Hong, head of the US Lacrosse Sport Science & Safety Committee.
“People can use this as a tool,” said Mike Vorgang, co-director of the Albany Power Lacrosse Club and head boys’ coach at Niskayuna High School. “When US Lacrosse puts something out it’s worth looking at.”
Hong’s group consisted of top medical professionals across multiple disciplines with strong connections to the sport. Additional input was provided by sport, event and legal and risk advisory groups representing every facet of the sport — coaches, officials, youth leagues, clubs and event operators.
“US Lacrosse’s return to play recommendations were developed to serve as an athlete-health centric resource to help the lacrosse community respond to and minimize risks associated with COVID-19 when returning to lacrosse activities and events,” Hong said in a release. “Our guiding principles for this paper were to compile and use relevant scientific research and follow the COVID-19 public health guidance provided by the CDC, WHO and other state and local public health authorities. These recommendations provide a strong foundation for lacrosse programs to plan for a gradual return; the guidance will most certainly evolve over time as information about COVID-19 remains fluid and every community will be at a different phase of return, during this pandemic.”
In the Capital Region and other parts of the state, non-school youth sports that are usually up and running by now have been on hold in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Their leaders are in limbo, just waiting for the go-ahead to proceed from higher authorities.
“We’re just waiting,” said Vorgang, whose club offers year-round lacrosse activities. “Right now all we can do is ride out the storm. When someone gives us the green light, we’ll go “
Vorgang said he and fellow staff members have been in the process of preparing for that day. With the US Lacrosse recommendations, they now have more ideas to work with.
“For the last six weeks we have been collecting protocol for if and when we get the opportunity to get the league going,” Vorgang said. “How do we handle situations? We’re trying to make a lot of decisions that make sense.”
“We all want to get back on the field, but we’re all in the same boat,” Sainato said. “No one is going to put anyone in a bad situation. At the end of the day, safety comes first. It’s just a game and we’ll have to wait to play the game.”
US Lacrosse recommends easing back into the game through a series of stages once play is authorized by local and state public health authorities. According to the US Lacrosse release:
Stage 1 is for at-home training when aligned with state/local public health guidelines that do not permit or recommend any-size group gathering, outside of family members, in any public setting.
Stage 2 is for small group (less than 10) modified lacrosse activity or practice at an outdoor facility and is aligned with state/ local public health guidelines that allow for small (under 10) group gatherings in a public or private setting. Social distancing requirements are in effect for all aspects of the training.
Stage 3 is for medium group (less than 50) modified intra-squad scrimmages/ practices with limited closeness and contact at an outdoor facility. This stage is aligned with state/local public health guidelines that allow for under 10 people to gather in groups indoors at a time or up to 50 people to gather outdoors at a time.
Stage 4 is for medium group (less than 50) local competition/practices from teams within the same locale, with limited closeness and contact at outdoor or indoor facilities and no multi-team events This is aligned with state/local public health guidelines that allow for up to 50 people to gather indoors or outdoors.
Stage 5 is for larger group gatherings (more than 50) and full competition resumption with multiple teams from varied geographic areas. This is aligned with state/local public health guidelines that allow for groups larger than 50.
“Every organization wants to do something at some level,” Sainato said. “When we get to go out there and play, it’s not going to be what it was in the past, at least not starting up.”
Vorgang will be taking that into consideration
“I don’t want to put any player in a situation where they are uncomfortable, or in a situation where they feel they are in danger,” he said
In addition to the staged guidelines, US Lacrosse offered several recommendations regardless of stage:
- All participants should stay at home if they are feeling sick or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and equipment and do not share equipment, water bottles or towels.
- If capability exists, temperature of participants should be taken using an infrared thermometer. Anyone with a temperature of 100.3 degrees or more should be sent home and evaluated by a licensed medical professional before being cleared to participate.
- Any tasks that can be done at home, should be done at home (recovery sessions, online meetings) in order to maximize the effectiveness of the time together.
- Before returning to practice, it’s imperative to conduct, at a minimum, a two-week period of guided athletic skills training. Athletes are more susceptible to injury following the extended downtime caused by the pandemic.
- Face masks are required for staff, coaches, officials and designated adults serving as hygiene support for all practices and activities. Athletes may wear a face mask during lacrosse activity.
- As stages progress, consider competition formats that allow for fewer players on the field to help mitigate risk.
- Consider game play modifications for aspects of boys’ and girls’ games to minimize higher risk activities by limiting extended closeness and contact between athletes.
“When something drops, you’re going to have a lot of people ready to go,” Sainato said.