As the world continues to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, planning for the 2021 Little League® season poses a variety of previously unimaginable challenges for local leagues and districts. The highest priority for Little League communities is to create a safe and healthy environment for all children. With that fundamental goal in mind, the importance of preparing and executing A Safety Awareness Program (ASAP) Safety Plan is critically important. Including a coronavirus mitigation protocol is strongly encouraged when preparing your 2021 ASAP plan. Safety Plans submitted without the inclusion of a coronavirus mitigation plan will be eligible for approval by Little League, however the lack of such protocols will likely affect the opportunity to be recognized as a regional or national winner of the Best Safety Plan award. As leagues work on their Safety Plan and creating a welcoming environment during this uncertain year, here are some best practices for Safety Officers and league volunteers to consider when preparing their ASAP Safety Plans.
Developing a Coronavirus Mitigation Protocol
The general definition of mitigation is: The action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something. In the face of the coronavirus, including mitigation procedures as part of your 2021 ASAP plan directly outlines recommended best practices for your league or district to follow when conducting any league activity throughout the season. Little League has developed several best practices that can be used as reference when creating a mitigation plan. Also review the latest resources from the Center from Disease Control (CDC) and current direction for your state and local governments. The mitigation protocol your league/district assembles as part of the 2021 ASAP plan is to provide specific action steps for combating the coronavirus. As you review and prepare the 15 ASAP Requirements for a qualified Safety Plan to see where this inclusion fits best as you build your plan. Appointing a board member to oversee all coronavirus concerns (e.g. League Safety Officer) will make this mitigation plan development and management easier to coordinate throughout the season.
Below is guidance on how to include Coronavirus mitigation efforts into the development of a 2021 safety plan using the 15 requirements for an approved safety plan.
Requirement 1 – Safety Officer:
Each league and district’s Board of Directors (BOD) is to have a Safety Officer. Development of the annual safety plan is among the primary tasks of the Safety Officer. For this season, it is recommended that the Safety Officer also manage all coronavirus concerns and work with the BOD to frequently communicate all health and safety procedures to league/district volunteers and families. When considering the details to be part of the 2021 safety plan, the Safety Officer and any supporting volunteer staff, should review and apply the recommendations available in Little League’s Best Practices; and information provided by the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Aspen Institute, and your state and local governments.
Requirement 2 – Safety Manual Distribution:
In providing access to the 2021 league/district safety manual, focus on creating an electronic version that can be shared via email to all league personnel/administration and reviewed online through the league/district website and social media pages, so that the families in your league are informed of your efforts and expectations. Safety plans should highlight the importance of social distancing, proper personal hygiene, and wearing masks.
Requirement 3 – Emergency Plan:
When leagues/districts submit their 2021 ASAP plan, a detailed emergency plan is to be included that outlines how to handle unforeseen situations, such as a positive COVID-19 test result. Reporting and contact tracing procedures should be explained in the plan and follow the recommendations from your state and local health officials and the CDC. It’s critical to ensure your league volunteers, players, and families are following the established goals and guidelines for coronavirus mitigation. These plans are established to help leagues minimize risk, ensure a safe playing environment for participants, and provide an enjoyable experience for players, volunteers, fans, and spectators.
Requirement 4 – Volunteer Application:
Encourage all volunteers to complete this process electronically to limit unnecessary in- contact. For volunteers new to the league, or those returning, the JDP QuickApp or the JDP/Sports Connect Integration are available to process volunteer applications and conduct the required annual background checks.
Requirement 5 – Fundamentals Training:
In your 2021 safety plan, consider extending the required attendance to all approved manager and coaches regardless of years of service. To offer broaden access for your league/district volunteers, be prepared to hold this training virtually and offer multiples dates and times. Use one of the several free online conference platforms available (i.e. Zoom, Skype, etc.). During this training, review and explain your league’s mitigation plan and requirements that all your volunteers will need to follow this year.
Requirement 6 – First-Aid Training:
Like Fundamentals Training (Requirement 5), consider adding into your 2021 safety plan the requirement that any approved manager, coach, or league official is to attend First-Aid training. This should be done using virtual/remote means (as outlined in Requirement 5). To assist with explaining the proper safety procedures for administering first-aid during the coronavirus pandemic, contact your local health care system or medical facility and ask if there is a medical professional who could conduct this training for the league. Make an effort to host the First-Aid training at the same as the Fundamentals Training, to improve the probability that the information being presented in both sessions is in line with current coronavirus mitigation efforts.
Requirement 7 – Check Field Conditions:
Emphasize in your 2021 safety plan the importance of inspecting field conditions before practices and games. It is incumbent upon coaches and umpires to inspect the condition of the field to help ensure that all state and local government guidelines associated with going to these physical locations are being followed. Include in your 2021 safety plan a field conditions checklist developed by your league/district that addresses current coronavirus mitigation procedures. This information is to be distributed to managers, league/district officials, and umpires. Having this checklist will be essential to helping to ensure safety is a constant priority.
Requirement 8 – Facility Survey:
There are several elements to consider when striving for a safe an enjoyable game-day experience for everyone. Beginning with the facility survey, this review extends beyond the physical condition of the fields and surrounding complex. Before starting your facility survey, make sure that you’re following all state and local government guidelines in going to these physical locations, which may include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), or scheduling time with the facility owner. Also review the common inspection points, but emphasize and apply the recommendations set for in the Little League Best Practices and by the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Aspen Institute, and your state and local governments. In your 2021 safety plan, note specific additional direction for maintaining the fields and dugouts, and properly sanitizing the concession area, restrooms, and seating areas for players and spectators. The public gathering areas are also the responsibility of the local Little League program (if it owns the playing facility) or the owner of the property where the league/district activities and are subject to regular inspection.
Requirement 9 – Concession Stand Safety:
Leagues/districts that decide to operate a concession stand based on the guidance from your state and or local health officials should make sure your concession stand safety assessment includes any specific guidance to fully follow the best practices and guidelines set by the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Aspen Institute, and your state and local governments for food service. The Safety Officer is recommended to hold a meeting with the Concession Manager and staff prior to the start of the season to address all coronavirus mitigation guidelines and procedures. A follow-up meeting/review is also important as the season progresses.
Requirement 10 – Equipment Check:
Each game, the umpire is responsible for conducting a formal check of the playing equipment to be used in that game. By including direction from Little League’s guidance on game operations, procedures can be added to your 2021 safety plan that outline how managers, coaches, league officials, and umpires can safely and effectively complete these tasks with limited physical contact.
Requirement 14 – Registration Data:
If in-person registration is a possibility, consider organizing a safety training for volunteers who will be serving as staff to further explain your league’s coronavirus mitigation procedures.. This training is recommended to be done virtually, using one of the several free online conference platforms available (i.e. Zoom, Skype, etc.). During the training, review and explain how frequent temperature checks, social distancing, limited contact, and other related expectations will be implemented during these, and subsequent league activities. Reference Little League’s Best Practices; and information provided by the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Aspen Institute, and your state and local governments when planning volunteer registration.
When building your 2021 ASAP plan, note that Requirement 15 specifically asks two survey questions regarding the impact of the coronavirus on your league’s willingness to participate in the Little League International Tournament. Please dedicate time to provide thorough feedback to these questions, so that Little League may better understand your needs and concerns, and develop resources for your benefit, as it prepares for the 2021 Little League International Tournament.
Remember, Little League requires districts, leagues, and teams to comply with all applicable guidance; and to review the information and latest direction on coronavirus mitigation. These materials are available on Little League’s 2021 Season Resources page; Little League’s Best Practices page; the Center for Disease Control website; and through your local and state government health departments.