Commentary

U.S. Soccer provides precise Phase 1 practice plans -- for when and if it's safe

"These guidelines and best practices are intended for use WHEN AND IF  your local authorities have deemed it safe to return to the practice field. U.S. Soccer is in no way endorsing holding practices or games in violation of any federal, state or local mandates."

-- Dr. George Chiampas, U.S. Soccer Chief Medical Officer.
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I remember so clearly -- even though it was decades ago -- the disappointment I felt as a boy when a game got rained out. I'd get angry -- "So what if it's raining!" -- and sad when the cancellation on Saturday ruined what I had looked forward to all week.

How much worse it is for children who for months haven't been able to play soccer -- on top of all the other normal activities they've been denied.

Rainouts are no longer as common thanks to artificial turf, but canceled games and practices were still the worst part of coaching. Repeatedly checking the weather app and waiting for the decision from the field coordinator -- the unsung hero of youth soccer -- on if we could play.

How much worse it is now. A deadly pandemic has weighed in on the decision on whether to play. There is the possibility that participants in a group gathering who may not be susceptible themselves to the virus' dangers could spread it along to those who are. The complexity of stifling coronavirus' spread is further complicated in the USA for various reasons, including:

In some areas people will feel more confident about the safety of loosening restrictions than in others where COVID-19 has hit tragically hard. And much of American soccer is a business; livelihoods of coaches and directors depend on it, creating more pressure on returning to play.

Guidance on how to proceed -- "if your local authorities have deemed it safe to return to the practice field" -- have been provided by U.S. Soccer, whose Chief Medical Officer, George Chiampas is also on the FIFA Medical Committee, Chairman of the Concacaf Medical Committee, and an emergency room doctor at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

U.S. Soccer's "Play On" web site resource includes precise practice plans for Phase 1 (Grassroots Individual and Small Group Training) and detailed safety measures.

A sampling of Phase 1 guidelines to coaches:

Coaches should plan a progressive build up to training at full intensity over two to four weeks, to minimize the risk of injury.

Where possible, general team bibs should not be used. The coach is recommended to make a plan in advance of training and as necessary suggest a specific training gear color for players to arrive in.

Training should be organized into individual or small group sessions with a maximum of nine players and one coach (or less, based on state/local social distancing guidelines).

Throw-ins and headers should be avoided.


"While U.S. Soccer is providing this information as recommendations, these guidelines are intended for consideration by national and state soccer associations, clubs, players, coaches, referees and parents as a consistent and risk mitigation pathway to return to play. At all times, please defer to your local and state public health authorities for specific modifications and/or alterations."

The recommendation guides are available in English and Spanish.

In coming weeks, U.S. Soccer will add guides for Phase 2 and 3. I believe that's a wise approach, because it allows further assessment of how COVID is being contained or spreading -- and releasing later-phase guidelines now could be misinterpreted as a green light to proceed by coaches who aren't closely paying attention to federal, state and local guidelines.

"We all know the game of soccer is important to the physical, mental and emotional wellness of our youth players," says Chiampas. "In consideration of how COVID-19 is transmitted, it is vitally important that everyone involved in the process of return-to-play does so with extreme diligence and attention to the widely-agreed-upon standards and guidelines."

My rainout complaints sound petty now. Extreme patience is required. There's much more at stake than ruined grass.

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LINKS:
• U.S. Soccer PLAY ON home page
U.S. Soccer PLAY ON recommendation guides
Phase 1: Grassroots soccer recommendation guide
Guía de recomendaciones de fútbol base primera fase
FAQs: Parents, coaches, players, clubs & organizations, referees
CDC Coronavirus Self-Checker
CDC Spanish Communication Resources

Aspen Institute's Project Play - Coronavirus and Youth Sports
U.S. Soccer Recognize to Recover – COVID-19 and Mental Health

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