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National Federation of State High School Associations releases guidelines to restart athletics, activities

The NFHS will use a three-phase implementation approach. The organization's executive director said she thinks individual sports will be the first to return.

WACO, Texas — The spread of COVID-19 forced the University Interscholastic League to cancel all spring activities. With so many students athletes clamoring for sports to resume, Dr. Karissa Niehoff says all parents should exercise patience, as state associations make plans to bring back sports.

"I think would be worst is if we have false starts and we get them back and engage in activity and stop again and recollect because it could be worst than the initial situation that we had," Niehoff said.

Niehoff is the Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations. On Tuesday, the NFHS released guidelines for opening up high school Athletics and activities.

Those precautions include a three-phase implementation approach.

"The very initial faze is where you have very few kids working together in what we call pods," Niehoff said. "No sharing of equipment, with no access to locker rooms or changing facilities and bringing their own hydration. That's the very first step."

The NFHS also placed all sports into categories based on their presumed risk for spreading COVID-19 through participation. Football, wrestling, competitive cheer and dance were all listed as high risk sports and should be the last sports allowed to return to play.

Volleyball, soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball, and softball were all listed as a moderate risk and individual sports like cross country, golf, swimming, track and field were all put in the lowest risk category.

"I think we'll see return to activity in individualized sports first," Niehoff said. "Then team with reduced fan capacity, probably even before we see interscholastic competition where kids are actually getting on buses and traveling and a lot of this will be depended on point of care resources."

For those who are unsure what sports will look like in the future, Niehoff said one thing parents and student athletes can do during this time is to remain positive.

"We see light at the end of the tunnel," Niehoff said. "It's just a new way of how we go about doing activities and taking care of one another and looking at new kinds of habits of sanitary practice and what we do on a day to day basis." 

Check out the NFHS reopening guidelines:

Phase 1:

  • Pre-workout Screening: All coaches and students should be screened for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout. Screening includes a temperature check.
  • Responses to screening questions for each person should be recorded and stored so that there is a record of everyone present in case a student develops COVID-19. 
  • Any person with positive symptoms reported should not be allowed to take part in workouts and should contact his or her primary care provider or other appropriate health-care professional.
  • Vulnerable individuals should not oversee or participate in any workouts during Phase 1. 

Limitations on Gatherings:

  • No gathering of more than 10 people at a time (inside or outside).
  • Locker rooms should not be utilized during Phase 1. Students should report to workouts in proper gear and immediately return home to shower at end of the workout.
  • Workouts should be conducted in “pods” of students with the same 5-10 students always working out together. Smaller pods can be utilized for weight training. This ensures more limited exposure if someone develops an infection.
  • There must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times. If this is not possible indoors, then the maximum number of individuals in the room must be decreased until proper social distancing can occur. 

Facilities Cleaning: 

  • Adequate cleaning schedules should be created and implemented for all athletic facilities to mitigate any communicable diseases. 
  • Prior to an individual or groups of individuals entering a facility, hard surfaces within that facility should be wiped down and sanitized (chairs, furniture in meeting rooms, locker rooms, weight room equipment, bathrooms, athletic training room tables, etc.)
  • Individuals should wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts. 
  • Hand sanitizer should be plentiful and available to individuals as they transfer from place to place. 
  • Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after an individual’s use of equipment.
  • Appropriate clothing/shoes should be worn at all times in the weight room to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment/surfaces.
  • Any equipment such as weight benches, athletic pads, etc. having holes with exposed foam should be covered. 
  • Students must be encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothing immediately upon returning to home. 

Physical Activity and Athletic Equipment

  • There should beno shared athletic equipment (towels, clothing, shoes, or sports specific equipment) between students.  
  • Students should wear their own appropriate workout clothing (do not share clothing) individual clothing/towels should be washed and cleaned after every workout. 
  • All athletic equipment, including balls, should be cleaned after each use and prior to the next workout.
  • Individual drills requiring the use of athletic equipment are permissible, but the equipment should be cleaned prior to use by the next individual. 
  • Resistance training should be emphasized as body weight, sub-maximal lifts and use of resistance bands.
  • Free weight exercises that require a spotter cannot be conducted while honoring social distancing norms. Safety measures in all forms must be strictly enforced in the weight room.


  • All students shall bring their own water bottle. Water bottles must not be shared.
  • Hydration stations (water cows, water trough, water fountains, etc.) should not be utilized.

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