U.S. Council for Athletes' Health
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The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework | Part 5: Creating a New Normal—Training and Practice Modifications

This is part five in a six-part series focused on returning to sport. For Part 1 of our six-part series, find The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework | Part 1: Creating a New Normal—Facilitating a Change in Culture document here and Part 2, Creating a New Normal - Facility Preparation and Management, Medical Facilities and Campus Facilities here, and Part 3 & 4: Creating a New Normal—Personnel Development and Training, Programming and Education here.


Category 5:  Training and Practice Modifications—General and Sport Specific

Over the past three weeks we have worked with you to ensure your organization is ready for the day when student athletes, coaches, and athletic healthcare personnel return to campus for training and practice. Concepts and terms once foreign to us—Social Distancing, Stay-at-Home, Shelter in Place, Essential and Non-Essential Workers—are now part of our daily vernacular and are at the very core of what we do every day. Together, we developed a Return to Sport Framework, a health and safety roadmap, ready for implementation the day the campus is opened.

The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework establishes six categories to ensure you are ready to begin the cultural change in sport healthcare once campuses are opened for the return of students and staff and for a return to sport participation. The six categories of the USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework are as follows:

Category 1: Return to Campus Protocols—Healthcare Staff, Student Athletes, Coaches and Staff

Category 2: Facility Preparation and Management—Medical Facilities and Campus Facilities

Category 3: Personnel Development and Training—Healthcare Personnel, Coaches and Staff

Category 4: Programming and Education—Healthcare Personnel, Students, Coaches and Staff

Category 5: Training and Practice Modifications—General and Sport Specific

Category 6: Sustaining Cultural Change—Programming to ensure the New Normal remains

The foundation of our preparations for a Return to Campus is set with an unwavering institutional commitment to personnel and programming. A commitment to this is paramount to the success of a safe return to sport participation and the sustainability of cultural change. Ours is a shared goal—the return to participation and training in a healthy and safe environment. 

And now, the anticipated is upon us. Campuses are opening daily across our nation and student athletes, coaches, and athletic healthcare personnel are returning to campus. Together we prepared for this day by introducing and discussing concepts and categories and we asked you to seek answers in areas you were never before immersed. Through all of this we have asked the same questions.

  • How can we slow the spread?
  • How do we ensure we have a safe home, safe environment, and a safe campus?
  • How soon can we resume sport participation?
  • Have we invested in our healthcare professionals, coaches, and staff to ensure they are prepared for a return of student athletes to campus?
  • Have we developed and implemented education and programming for our healthcare professionals, students, coaches, and staff to ensure the return to sport participation will be safe?

With the return to campus you must continue to daily ask the five questions above.  However, you are better equipped than ever before. As your partner on this journey we helped you establish the single most important element of our Return to Sport Participation Framework—the formation of your Athletics COVID-19 Action Team. With this team your daily approach to safe training and practice now centers on ensuring the daily answer for each of the five questions is an unequivocal “Yes”.

Our work now takes us to reviewing, modifying, and implementing the training and practice protocol modifications that will ensure the safety of our student athletes, coaches, athletic healthcare personnel. Category 5: Training and Practice Modifications—General and Sport Specific category is the 5th of 6 categories and relies on the work your institution has completed in Categories 1-4. 

In working with your Athletics COVID-19 Action Team your practice and training facilities should be evaluated. For all of your practice and training facilities you must review and rate the level of risk each training and practice facility may bring to the student athletes, coaches, and athletic health care personnel. The goal is to reduce all possible levels of risk. For some sports—especially contact sports—you will discover the level of risk is difficult to reduce without significantly changing long established training and practice procedures.  However, every effort to decrease risk and practice physical distancing should made.

After evaluation of facilities and sports to mitigate risk has been completed you must then establish a protocol for individual acclimatization of athletes back to sport. This is perhaps the most important aspect of each athletes’ individual return to sport.  It is important that we do not lose site of the health and safety initiatives of sport, outside of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conditioning programs to return to sport must consider individualized programs that account for the following:

  • Unknown activity levels while quarantined
  • Progressive return to Activity from illness
  • Return to campus from different geographical areas with weather and temperature difference.

The most difficult part of this risk assessment and minimization is not defining the level of risk each facility or training site poses. Nor will it be the establishment of new training procedures and facility use protocols. Instead, the most difficult part of the process will be the buy-in required of one hundred percent of the student athletes and coaches to the Standards of the New Normal. You will have created the programming to ensure a safe and healthy environment. Now it is up to the personnel to carry it forward.

A return to campus and a return to sport participation require an instant commitment to change the culture of sport. Specifically, we must focus on health care personnel and programming—the personnel who will provide healthcare and the programming in place to ensure the safety and wellness of the student athletes, coaches, and the athletic healthcare personnel.

From a cultural perspective we are asking everyone to be more than a game changer.  We want them to be program changers. With the right programming and personnel calls, with the culmination of efforts of everyone associated with your athletic programs at your college or university you can set the new course to change your programs forever. Athletic healthcare personnel, student athletes, coaches, parents, and administration will all be game changers as we safely return to training and practice on our colleges and campuses.

The experts at the U.S. Council for Athletes Health have included a comprehensive checklist to provide guidance for:

The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework | Category 5: Training and Practice Modifications—General and Sport Specific

For additional resources within the USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework six-part series, find them here:

For more information, check out our Return to Sport Considerations for College & University Intercollegiate Athletics article here.

For additional information and programming to ensure your institution is prepared for a return to campus and a return to sport contact and collaborate with USCAH.

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