COVID-19 has forced everyone to look at sports and coaching through a new lens, and one of those common messages is: ”don’t make any mistakes.” It is vital, therefore, to have protocols in place.
Communication from the athletic director is where it starts. A well-thought-out plan with follow-up provisions provides consistency to ensure a safer environment for all. Whether you use meetings via Zoom or Google Meet, email or social media, it is necessary to get your message to your coaches, parents and athletes.
Everyone needs to know the expectations and processes for checking in athletes, cleaning equipment, facility use, procedures for games and practice sessions and social distancing in the locker room.
If a student answers “Yes” to any of the questions on the Screening Form or has a temperature above 100.4 F:
It is important for coaches to have students enter and exit by the same doors and that everyone is wearing their mask at all times. If locker rooms are being used, coaches must assign students lockers to meet social distancing requirements and to explain procedures to use the bathrooms.
Communicating with your custodial staff is a key to maintaining a clean and safe environment.
You don’t want to wait until someone has COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive. It is vital to have a plan that includes how everything will be communicated. Also, make sure you alert your principal concerning any issues.
When there is an athlete who might be affected by the virus, there are standard letters that are useful when dealing with families. The following are three specific examples:
The purpose of this letter is to let parents of a specific sport know that one of the athletes experienced COVID-19 symptoms. The steps taken by the school are included as well as an explanation that this athlete must have a negative test result and cleared by a doctor before returning to the team. The letter concludes with a statement that updates will be provided as they become available.
It is critical to send this notification as soon as possible in order to not only keep parents informed, but to also mitigate any worries that a family might have. Indicate that updates will be forthcoming as they become available.
When an athlete has been tested and the results are positive, but other members of the team may not have been in close contact, this letter can be used. Parents are notified that their child may not be at high risk and some on the team may be asked to self-quarantine in an abundance of care and safety.
Furthermore, a definition from the Indiana Department of Public Health of what constitutes ‘close contact’ is included. If there are any new developments, parents will be informed and will be encouraged to contact a school administrator if they have any questions.
This particular letter notifies parents that a team has been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 and that the school is working with the county health department to monitor the individual and with the efforts of contact tracing. In addition, the letter details specific steps that the school is taking to ensure the safety of all athletes and coaches.
The letter closes with the pledge to continue to implement new and additional protocols and guidelines as they are created and shared through the various health agencies. The offer is also made to parents to contact a school administrator with any questions that might arise.
A key point is that more and frequent communication is better than no communication, and this would include with district and building administrators, coaches, athletes and parents. By having a written plan that everyone is aware of, stress and panic can be greatly reduced! No one likes to be surprised, and people appreciate you reaching out to them so they can plan accordingly. At the end of the day, the health and safety of all students is and should be the No. 1 priority.
Steve Gertz is the assistant principal for athletics and activities at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, Illinois and a state NIAAA Leadership Training instructor. He is also the Mentor Chairperson for the Illinois Athletic Directors Association.