US Lacrosse Return to Play

John Strohsacker

Last week, US Lacrosse announced a set of Return to Play recommendations to assist the lacrosse community in following the appropriate steps to mitigate the risk for all participants in the COVID-19 environment. The guidelines were developed by a medical advisory group, with additional input from sport and event professionals.

On Monday, advisory group chair and US Lacrosse vice president Ann Kitt Carpenetti and three members of the medical advisory team hosted a webinar to further explain the recommendations and to answer specific questions submitted by members of the lacrosse community.

The presenters stressed that the guidelines are intended to provide medically-informed guidance in the development of safer return to play protocols, and are grounded in established public health recommendations that address the mitigation of exposure risk to the spread of COVID-19. 

Click below to access a free replay of the June 1 webinar.

The recommendations outline five stages or phases in the return to play. Foremost at this time is the belief that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities, due to better airflow and ventilation.

“The available research indicates that transmission risk is lower in an outdoor environment,” said Dr. Karen Sutton, Hospital of Special Surgery in New York.

The presenters also noted that it is important to begin with a two-to-four week period of non-competitive lacrosse activity to increase player fitness levels. A progressive and gradual return to normal game play is being emphasized.

“Programs should begin with drills and conditioning and non-competitive play,” said Dr. Richard Hinton of Medstar Sports Medicine. “Don’t go straight to game competition. That’s definitely a red flag.”

Hinton anticipates that the summer months will be helpful in gathering more information about COVID-19 to heighten understanding and shape additional policies.

“I think we’re all in agreement that stage five, which would be normal participation with normal travel and multi-team events is a long way away. We need more information about how the disease is progressing before we can talk about safety in multi-team travel events,” he said.

The presenters also stressed the importance of advance preparation for organized activities by players, parents, coaches and program leaders. One of the ways to reduce the risk of transmission is to come to the field ready to play. Basically, get in and get out.

“Exposure is higher with longer periods of contact among individuals,” Sutton said. “There are ways we can try to limit the contact, like having designated areas for each player’s gear. There should be no shared equipment, water bottles or towels. And everything you bring to practice should be clean. Get on the field and get off the field.” 

“Fortunately, the coronavirus is very easy to kill. You don’t need high-powered disinfectants to keep your equipment clean,” said Dr. Eugene Hong, chair of the US Lacrosse Sport Science & Safety Committee and chief physician executive at the Medical University of South Carolina. “Good hygiene practices just can’t be emphasized enough.”

Keeping the players engaged in activity, rather than allowing them to congregate together on the sidelines, should be a priority for the coaches. Game play modifications, such as small-sided games, are encouraged. Limiting spectators and having an emergency action plan are also strongly recommended.

The full 21-page Return to Play document is available online.

“It’s important to clarify that this is not a rules document,” Hong said. “These are recommendations. We’re all still concerned with the unknowns.” 

“Information regarding COVID is constantly evolving, so our commitment will be to continually review new information and determine if we need to make adjustments,” Carpenetti said.

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