NextUp Town Hall: Youth And Local Baseball/Softball In The Wake Of COVID-19
As multiple states begin reopening, players and parents are naturally wondering when and how youth sports will resume. The answer is a complicated one—informed not just by government decisions, but by how comfortable people are getting back on the diamond.
To dig into this, we gathered a group of leading baseball and softball organizers to discuss what return to play looks like, and share tips and ideas for keeping clubs afloat as we travel the long road back to “normal.”
We were joined by Joe Lopez (Gators Baseball), Keri King (Triple Crown Sports), Donny Dreher (Finesse Fastpitch), Charlie Sperduto (Washington Nationals), and Dr. Kathryn McElheny (Hospital For Special Surgery), in a conversation moderated by Jeremy Goldberg, President of LeagueApps. As leaders in the youth baseball, softball, and medical space, their expertise and organizational approach in the coming weeks and months will be emulated by organizers looking to deliver a safe return-to-play strategy to their parents and players.
If you’d like to access the Town Hall in its entirety please click this link. For a summary of the major highlights, continue reading below.
Limiting Risk Is The Key, Says Associate Team Physician for the New York Mets
Dr. Kathryn McElheny provided a blueprint for baseball and softball organizations that are reopening and looking to do so as safely as possible. The key, according to Dr. McElheny, is minimizing density. By that, she means training in small groups and staggering start times so that your players, coaches, and parents aren’t congregating in the same areas. The reason for this is that it is believed that transmission is possible between players at a range of 6 to 15 feet depending on the level of physical exertion. On the subject of parents, it’s best for them to watch from their cars or via a video link. Limiting practices and training to essential personnel only is one way to adhere to CDC recommendations in the coming weeks.
As for hygiene recommendations, symptomatic players should not be allowed to attend practices or games. Organizations should attempt to keep track of players’ medical histories, which would include temperature screenings. While it appears that the risks are lower for an outdoor sport like baseball, masks are still highly encouraged, especially when players are off the field. Minimizing the number of players and coaches in the dugout is also a must. Additionally, hand washing can limit transmission on objects like bats, baseballs, and other equipment. Dr. McElheny advocates utilizing the EPA’s approved products for cleaning surfaces.
Whether it’s spacing players out on buses or at the team facility, communicating with players and parents every step of the way is crucial when trying to achieve full buy-in. Organizations can even provide players with team-branded masks to add a bit of team spirit and fun to the experience. Being creative in how you implement these strategies will go a long way with the players.
Baseball As A Virtual Experience
Gators Baseball Academy’s Joe Lopez has helped create an entirely virtual experience for his players during the lockdown. Gators Baseball Academy TV is posted through Facebook Live every Monday night. The digital experience has featured St. Louis Cardinals’ coaches, in-depth workout & strategy tips, all while connecting to players and parents on a consistent basis. Continuing with the digital theme, GBA has utilized Blast Motion to stay connected to their players. The Blast Baseball sensor, mobile apps, and cloud-based premium services combine to provide a full solution for data collection while providing live feedback, reporting, and video analysis. This is one of the most sophisticated ways to enable remote coaching in the era of COVID-19. GBA’s players and staff have raved about the software. It also provides parents with a platform to upload videos for the GBA staff to analyze them and give feedback.
Navigating Credits and Refunds
Triple Crown Sports’ Keri King was candid about the financial challenges brought on by COVID-19. They’ve handled registration fees with a multi-faceted approach. Refunds and transfers have helped them balance the future financial health of the organization. They were able to access funding from the PPP by tapping into their local banking relationships that had been cultivated over numerous years. Even with federal funding, they still explored a restructuring and the potential sale of some of their equity as a way to lay all options on the table. Similarly Joe Lopez and GBA utilized the PPP and SBA disaster relief fund pretty seamlessly, thanks to their banking connections. As a result, they’ve been able to retain their entire staff, while offering refunds and credits to their parents. The common thread has been clear communication with parents, holistic financial planning, and a longterm view of organizational success.
Baseball and softball players are returning to the field, which raises the question of liability for organizations. From on-field protocols to waivers, it’s clear that baseball and softball organizations need to be extremely buttoned up to avoid any potential liability. Charlie Sperduto of the Washington Nationals has relied on Major League Baseball for some help in this department. The MLB is currently helping each urban academy develop COVID-19 liability waivers. Joe Lopez’s GBA already has a waiver circulated that details a comprehensive list of strict rules, including how many kids can be on the field at one time, coaching protocols, where parents are allowed to be and when, and the organization’s screening procedures. For organizations looking to start from scratch, the YMCA recently published an 82-page safety document “Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidance” that could be useful for any group trying to safely engage in outdoor activity.
Resources For Organizers
Numerous resources were mentioned throughout the 60-minute discussion and we wanted to provide them here for our audience to access at any time:
Communicating with players and parents during this time won’t always be easy. Here’s a guide to handling difficult conversations with Charlie Hauck.
Community has never been more important than it is now. Connecting with other clubs to see what they’re doing can help you design your own return to play plans. Join our NextUp Industry Slack group where you can connect with other baseball and softball leaders.
Many of our panelists are running virtual programming. We’ve published a toolkit for launching successful virtual programming if you’re looking for tips on how to get started.
Once restrictions have been lifted, you will still need to deal with player and parent expectations and how comfortable they feel returning to play. We created a survey template to solicit important feedback from your community as you develop your plans.