I have started and stopped this newsletter what seems like 1000 times in the last month. But, then I saw this article announcing that 15,000 athletes and their families from 34 states will be converging in Florida for a mega AAU volleyball tournament in mid June. Here, I’ve spent the better part of most days over the past 10 weeks thinking about how to safely “dip our toe in the water” of youth sports, when a tsunami comes and potentially washes all of those efforts away.
I am reminded of the value of a decisive head coach. At some point, you have to make a decision with all of the information you have in front of you – otherwise the game will be over and you’ll be sitting with nothing but “what ifs”. However, successful coaches do not throw a “Hail Mary” pass in the middle of the 3rd quarter. That’s for when you run out of options. Look, this no doubt has been a difficult spring on so many levels for so many people, but it’s important that we honor the work and efforts that have happened thus far as we make decisions to reduce the possibility of those efforts having been in vain. And this is no time for panic. It is time for wise, prudent leadership.
As a Camp Director, I lay awake at night worrying about the safety of my campers and staff. Last year, a waking thought may have been the enforcement of rules like “no half court shots” during free play in a crowded gym to limit the likelihood of a concussion. This year the waking thoughts have elevated to unimaginable levels – How do I keep my campers and staff as safe as possible from a potentially deadly virus?. The answer came to me when speaking with a 2-4-1 mom who has immuno-comprimised children, holds a doctorate and is encouraging me to open camp this summer so that her children have as safe a place to play as possible. She did not, however, say “I need your camp to be risk free”. She knows that’s impossible. And sadly, so do I. If someone is promising you risk free, turn around – and run fast.
“As safe a place to play as possible” is about “risk mitigation.” In the same way that we put rules and protocols in place to mitigate the risk of concussion, we have to put rules and protocols in place to mitigate the risk of infection.
Part of the reason for my delay in sending this out has been my anticipation of clear guidelines coming from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that we kept being told “are coming soon”. Unfortunately what was released this week, while mildly helpful, proved only to be simple “suggestions” – much of which are common sense. That said, we are grateful for thoughtful advice coming from the likes of the USOPC and Aspen Institute’s Project Play, but I’ve come to realize that it is boots on the ground practitioners that ultimately need to deliver on these recommendations and consider the implications on their own programs. (Not sure the folks holding a 15,000 player tournament next month are doing this).
To that end, I had a Zoom call earlier this week with my most veteran staff of 2-4-1 coaches. There were 12 staff members on the call and all but 1 has been a head coach at some point. In this case, however, they turned into an incredible team of assistant coaches, delivering their own risk-mitigation suggestions with professionalism and empathy. But, it was the words of one coach that may have struck me most. She currently works in some of our poorest neighborhoods and brings a number of sponsored children to our camp each summer. Paraphrased, she said “Look, I’ll wear a mask in 100 degree weather outside all day, every day for 10 days straight, but these kids have to have a place to play.” That was it – that was all I needed to hear. As a licensed counselor, I immediately went to that place in my head that reminded me that as much as we need to protect these children from this virus, we also need to protect them from the damage of inactivity, social isolation and emotional distress. That’s when I realized this doesn’t have to be “either/or” – we must program for “and/both”.
While we still need to get final confirmation from each of the schools and municipalities we run our camps that we can do so at their location, we are prepared to implement the following wherever we do run camp this summer.
Connecticut has strict licensing requirements and we’ve also appreciated the guidance coming out of the Office of Early Childhood (OEC). Many of the protocols you will see below are intended to meet/exceed their expectations, while also accounting for the nuances of our program. (Please note that this newsletter is going to a large audience, not all of whom are camp parents, The following are general protocols. Site specific ones (how lunch will be disseminated, which bathrooms will be available, how we will do staggered pick up and drop off,etc) are still all to be determined in partnership with our host schools and municipalities and will be announced in subsequent follow up to those respective attendees only).
- All campers will be divided into cohorts of 10 and assigned a designated counselor(s) and that group will remain together throughout the camp. While individual campers typically get to choose 3 sports for the week, this summer coaches will introduce at least two new sports and activities each day. The third session sport will be a consensus vote of each individual cohort. (Every camper will have the choice to choose at least one friend to be in their cohort).
- Cohorts will not co-mingle at any point during camp to maintain social distancing and to allow us to do internal contact tracing in the event of an infected camper or staff member.
- Upon arrival at camp, all campers will be screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 as well as a potential history of exposure.
- Campers will report directly to their cohort location upon arrival.
- Campers will not be required to wear masks during play, but encouraged to wear them during rest periods, shade breaks, etc.
- Staff will have masks at all times and required to have them on when within 6 feet of any other person (child or adult).
- All equipment will be sanitized between sessions or any new cohort use.
- All staff will go through enhanced orientation on all health and safety procedures relative to COVID-19.
The challenge for a camp like ours is that it is impossible to keep masks on children all day, and even more challenging to offer play-based sports where children are 6 feet from each other at all times. We want to be 100% honest with parents and our staff, that the above guidelines – while not ideal – give us the best chance to limit the spread of the coronavirus, while maintaining some level of efficacy on delivering our model. It is risk mitigation, but – it is not risk free.
We announced right at the start of the shutdown that we realized many of us would be impacted by this crisis both emotionally and financially. We are not immune to that. We want to reiterate that in those locations where we control the registrations (some camps have sign up through the town website and not ours), we do not want your children staying home for financial reasons if you want them at camp. In the same way that we are grateful for those families that deferred their tuition to next year at our canceled camps, we want to work with any family that has fallen on hard times to make sure you can attend. If you’ve fallen on hard times, consider this summer’s tuition an interest free loan that we trust you will pay if and when you can. No questions asked. If we’re going to say things like “We’re all in this together” we have to walk the talk.
Please know that in many ways, it would be so much easier to pack things up for the summer, but all I can end with is the following:
- If we are to open economies, parents have to have “as safe a place as possible” to put their children when they return to work.
- Schools need to “dip their toe in the water” before they do a giant cannonball off the high dive. Practicing cleaning protocols, learning from camp practices etc could prove invaluable to those schools and districts that are planning full openings in the fall.
- I go back to our coach that said, “these kids have to have a place to play”.
As always, I welcome any feedback and am happy to support anyone out there who is struggling with decisions about your own programs or worries about what to do is best for your families.
Stay safe, be smart, and keep playing!
Steve Boyle,Founder, 2-4-1 SportsAdvisory Board Chair,National Association of Physical LiteracyFounding Member,Quality Coaching Collective