By late July and August of this summer, most facilities and program administrators were getting anxious about the many return-to-play (RTP) questions. Skill development coaches and hockey schools were equally concerned as their ability to train athletes had turned to online components and some small group dryland sessions.
What facilities are open or opening?
Are they safe?
Who is qualified to lead training and practice?
What are leagues, associations and sport governing bodies recommending?
When do we get to play again?
These are just some of the questions concerning players, parents, guardians, administrators and coaches.
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So, it are the national sport governing bodies, and state and provincial sports groups who oversee sport, but these groups have mostly looked to public health and federal governance for direction on return-to-play. Only small steps forward were offered with the advice hinging on a stepwise or phased approach to a resumption of play. By late August communication has been less than clear and many competitive programs have jumped forward largely disregarding the phased approach to RTP and have elected to begin right where they left off.
One thing became certain as facilities begin to re-open and as the numbers of players to hit the ice grow. Things are anything but normal! Going to the rink now has a whole host of pre-requirements and rules.
First, traditional access and participation barriers for players have become even more pronounced. Cost increases, justified by the need for enhanced screening, cleaning and (even) monitoring, for example, have acted to further marginalized individuals who before the pandemic struggled to play due to socio-economic status, disability etc. As such, barriers to participation have become more exaggerated and the relative ease of jumping on the ice once enjoyed by us hockey nuts is gone.
The rush to competition regardless of possible risk is clear. These risks include: facility and program closure, league and association prohibition, fines and suspensions for non-compliance, not to mention the obvious risk to public health. These irresponsible few seem willing to put athletes in danger and even are willing to risk the possible exposure to vulnerable people. Don’t be one of these people.
But, I remain confident, hockey people are resilient and a worldwide pandemic isn’t going to stop us from lacing up. Regardless of what it looks like.
Here are some best practices you can use from those who have RTP and are getting it right.
1. Prepare and prevent
Because things have changed we must now alter our preparations as leaders of sports before we get to the rink. Begin with packing your coach kit. Ensure you have player profile documents, participation waivers and player/family contact sheets. These documents may be required on entry or in a case of someone presenting with symptoms.
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