Youth Basketball and COVID-19: Preparing an Indoor Winter Sport for a Global Pandemic

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With a COVID-19 vaccine’s widespread availability still estimated to be sometime in 2021, the world faces a long winter in which the coronavirus will likely continue disrupting our daily lives by reshaping the realm of physical activity. Many of the most prevalent impacts of this ongoing hardship will be borne by children, whose physical and emotional development is greatly aided by participating in team sports.      


This year’s Pioneer Institute & Nichols College Sports Management Policy College Case Competition sought policy-driven adaptive solutions that will allow youth to continue participating in these sports even during a public health crisis. The winning team, consisting of Isabella Nerney, Dylan Pella, Adam Phillips, and Shannon St. Lawrence, all undergraduates at Nichols College, has provided such solutions for basketball in a report entitled “COVID-19: The Impact on Youth Sports.” One of the most popular youth sports in America, basketball is also traditionally an indoor sport, meaning it may be more susceptible to spreading coronavirus than sports like baseball and golf. 


Specific proposals of the Nichols students include implementing hand sanitizing stations at games, restricting who can attend the games, and limiting team travel to a highly local geographic area. An oral presentation delivered by the students to the judges during the competition also emphasized the potential for conducting team workouts and drills over Zoom and ventilation best practices for indoor facilities.


Paul Cacciatore, Vice President of Member Experience & Arena Operations with the Boston Celtics and one of the competition’s judges, seemed particularly impressed with the discussion on ventilation. Mr. Cacciatore also made it clear that, in a professional sports context, HVAC systems are a crucial consideration for maintaining the safety of players and allowing the return of fans during COVID-19. The competition’s other judges include Ellen Roy Herzfelder, the former Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs and current member of the Pioneer Institute Board of Directors, and Joshua Medeiros, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation at the City of Bristol, Connecticut and Adjunct Professor of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management at Southern Connecticut State University.


Additional precautions proposed by the winning team would encourage spectators and benched players to wear masks, carefully manage how people enter and exit the gymnasium, and allow full-contact play only during competitive events. The Nichols students go on to discuss both the quality-of-life and economic benefits of maintaining youth sports opportunities during the pandemic. 


As a prize for their achievements, the winning team will receive a $2,000 prize to split among the team members, and their full proposal for preparing youth basketball for COVID-19 is available here.