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    Playing Sports Safely During a Pandemic

    By John Chen–

    For the last four months we’ve been sheltering in place, social distancing, and wearing masks that cover our mouths and noses. We’ve also done our best to adapt to a world with no gyms and no sports. I am one of the lucky ones because I have a workout and sports buddy who lives with me. Together, we’ve challenged ourselves by conquering online exercise programs (although I cheated a bit), playing one on one sports away from people, and discovering the beauty of our local parks, shorelines, hills and neighborhoods.

    Now that some Bay Area counties have slowly allowed outdoor exercises and activities, many sports fanatics like me are itching to get back on the field with our friends and teammates. We crave the bond, the human interaction, and that sense of community from team sports. But how do we play sports safely during a pandemic?

    I have a few suggestions. First, choose an individual sport where social distancing naturally occurs, such as tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Remember to always sanitize your equipment and hands intermittently as you play and avoid any contact with your mouth and nose.

    Second, you may gather a few friends and play a non-contact version of any sport. For examples, you can shoot hoops and play H-O-R-S-E on an outdoor basketball court. Play catch with a football. Pitch, hit, and catch with a baseball and softball. Defend against the goal in soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse. You can be creative and make up non-contact and socially distant games with your friends. Again, and I repeat because this is important, sanitize your hands and equipment and avoid contact with your mouth and nose, unless you get hit there by accident. If that’s the case, swallow your pride and gather what is left of your dignity and sanitize your equipment and hands immediately.

    Finally, some non-physical contact team sports may be played safely and others may be played with fewer teammates. The best examples are volleyball and softball. Softball or baseball is a naturally social distancing team sport where each player on defense is situated in a large zone. Make a few modifications to the rules, such as the catcher must be at least six feet behind the home plate and each baseman must be at least six feet away from a runner on that base. No tagging is allowed and teams must socially distance and wear a mask while in the dugout. And, of course, no high fives, fist bumps, hugs, or physical contact with any body parts. This is the hard part.

    Photo Courtesy of John Chen

    Recently, I gathered a small group of close friends, six in total, to play outdoor doubles and triples grass volleyball. The reduced number was to ensure proper social distancing, although volleyball is one of those sports that can be played with a reduced number of teammates. Upon arrival, we set our own rest space at least six feet apart from one another. We brought our own snacks and drinks as well as masks. No sharing. We instituted no blocking and must hit behind the 10-foot line rules to avoid potential physical contact. We also sanitized our hands and all of the equipment intermittently during play. At the end of the day, we had a blast while being as safe as possible.

    Whatever sport you choose to play, there are always ways to play it safely and responsibly. If there’s natural contact, you can always choose to play a non-contact version. The keys are proper social distancing, no screaming or loud cheers when somewhat close to others to reduce airborne transmission unless you wear a mask, sanitize and repeat, and most importantly, use common sense during this pandemic. Once you are out on the field, say hello to your friends and teammates from a safe distance and enjoy the game you love!

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.

    Published on July 16, 2020