Maintaining Safe Sport During COVID-19

As the world continues to adjust to the “new normal” under COVID-19, sport leaders have been considering how best to encourage safe training environments for athletes and coaches. We appreciate that while sport organizations have been focusing on implementing  safe sport strategies to ensure they are meeting public and funding expectations, they are now faced with an increasingly volatile environment which may have shifted certain priorities. This blog is about minimizing uncertainty by providing you with helpful tips and important information to ensure your organization, your coaches and your athletes stay protected.

The SLSG has had several conversations with insurance providers over the past few weeks to ensure we are providing accurate information to sport leaders. While all sports have had to suspend or cancel training and competition for the foreseeable future, sport leaders need to address virtual and ‘live’ coaching and training sessions.

Pre-pandemic, coaches often provided supplementary at-home workouts or training in between practices and competitions that athletes were encouraged to do on their own time.  Insurance providers, for the most part, have considered these at-home, unsupervised workouts to be “personal activities” and as such, they have never been covered by a sport organization’s insurance. However, in today’s environment, these at-home workouts are becoming more formalized through virtual sessions with coaches interacting ‘live’ with athletes.  For instance, we are seeing a number of coaches across many sports providing virtual training sessions to athletes in order to keep them physically active, mentally engaged, and prepared for when competition returns.

A critical consideration is whether the ‘training session’ has been sanctioned by the policy holder, which is usually the Provincial/Territorial Sport Organizaton (PTSO) or National Sport Organization (NSO).  To minimize any unnecessary risk, we encourage organizations and coaches to consider the following three questions before hosting online training sessions:

  1. Is the activity sanctioned by the insurance policy holder (usually the PTSO or NSO)?
  2. Is the activity only being offered to registered members and participants of the policy holder?
  3. Are the participants being supervised by the coach?

Here is further clarification about why these three questions are important:

Insurance

If you want your coaches to be able to run sanctioned online training sessions, the first step is to review your insurance policy to determine what is currently covered.   Some insurance providers are amending their policies to cover virtual coaching sessions, if they weren’t already included.  However, there are usually strict guidelines under which virtual coaching can take place.   While every insurance policy is unique, insurance providers we spoke to are only covering supervised sanctioned activities for registered members and participants.

Sanctioned Activities

Since the insurance policy holder is usually the PTSO or the NSO, most clubs would fall under one of those sanctioning bodies.  Any virtual coaching activity that is taking place at the club level would have to be sanctioned by their policy holder for it to be covered by insurance. Some insurance providers are working with their sport clients to come up with new protocols to address the current situation, but other policies already have them embedded. The essential elements to keep in mind are to ensure transparency by communicating what is taking place, who is leading the activity, as well as when, where and how this activity is taking place. Some PTSOs and NSOs are creating new guidelines around virtual coaching to make it easier and clearer for everyone, such as by providing a waiver (assumption of risk for minors) or disclaimer prior to the session acknowledging the possible risks.

Supervised Activities

Most insurance providers are mandating that all participants in sanctioned virtual coaching log-in to the session on a video platform in order to meet the supervision part of the insurance criteria.  The coach must be able to see each participant and their environment so phoning in to the session would not comply with the mandated requirements.  This is important because the role of the coach in the virtual space has not changed.  They are still required to use their skills and judgment to provide instruction and to assess whether participants are doing the activities correctly and safely.  They need to be able to see all participants clearly and be able to easily provide feedback in order to meet their duty of care.  That is why recorded training sessions are not acceptable to most insurance companies as a sanctioned activity because it is not supervised.

Finally, space requirements need to be communicated in advance and then checked visually once everyone has logged in and activated their cameras.  If participants do not have suitable space for the planned activities, an alternative activity should be prepared or an alternate safe space identified.  Physical safety checks that are in place in a regular training environment need to be maintained in a virtual training environment.  This could be done by coaches asking specific questions about the physical space while viewing it through webcam and/or a confirmation from the participant or participant’s parent that the space meets identified requirements.

Registered Members and Participants (Athletes)

Insurance is usually only in place for registered participants of the policy holder. This means that if registration has not happened or has been suspended for an upcoming season, the participants may not be covered by the insurance policy.  If participants are currently registered, note the end date for their registration which may correlate to their insurance coverage.

This is another reason it is important to have all participants of virtual coaching log-in, so the coach can track that they are registered.  Unfortunately, for this reason, anyone outside of the organization will not be permitted to participate, including parents and siblings. If the participants are minors, their parents must sign off on their participation.  Knowing exactly who is in the session will help ensure activities are appropriate for those in attendance and while it may be an efficient use of time to blend different ages and abilities, this could pose a risk of injury as not all activities would be considered developmentally appropriate for the entire group.

Taking care of these elements should help with insurance but there are other safe sport considerations that need to be managed as well.

Adhering to the Rule of Two and/or Open and Observable Environments

In terms of the “Rule of Two”, the same principles apply virtually as for in-person coaching.  If the sport organization has implemented a policy stating a coach and athlete should not be having one-on-one private conversations or coaching sessions, then the same applies online.  Someone else needs to be present and/or involved.  For instance, some coaches have been contacting their athletes by phone to check in and to stay connected. We applaud the care and concern that coaches are demonstrating and would remind them to comply with any policies that require a second adult or coach to be present or perhaps host a team chat where everyone can share and engage together.

If the policy states coaching needs to be in an “open and observable environment”, this means the same parameters must exist for the virtual session. The coaching session could be held where athletes are in a common space in the family home and where parents are aware and within earshot.  If a minor is involved, parents should get a full agenda of the session ahead of time and be encouraged to check in from time to time.

Enhanced Wellness

Since our lives have drastically changed because of COVID-19, the priority must be on everyone taking care of themselves and those closest to them.  We are all handling this situation differently and it is best to assume that capabilities may have changed, be it physical, emotional or technological. Training or coaching sessions that are provided virtually must be optional and no one should be penalized for opting out for any reason.

While ensuring the well-being of athletes and coaches is an on-going priority, COVID-19 has added increased stress that could heighten anxiety for some participants.  Providing self-care links to helpful mental health resources and checking in to see how they are coping is important.  In addition, attending to basic physiological needs to ensure athletes are drinking enough water, sleeping well and eating healthy foods are essential preventative measures that help reduce stress.

Some sport organizations are providing online forums to help their members stay connected and to facilitate healthy dialogue.  For instance, SLSG’s three certified Integral CoachesTM have been supporting various groups of athletes, coaches, officials and parents by hosting online discussions to share practical tips and exchange healthy ways to cope.  Participants come away feeling connected, inspired and motivated to tackle the things that are weighing them down.  We encourage coaches and leaders to be aware of how they are coping through this difficult time so in turn, they can continue to support those under their care.

If you are looking for additional self-care and other mental health resources, please check out the following:

https://cmha.ca/news/covid-19-and-mental-health

https://activeforlife.com/how-to-fit-self-care-into-your-day/

https://www.cmho.org/covid19

If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to listen to the recent Conversation Matters: You Ask, We Share! webinar about implementing safe sport during or after COVID-19 or contact me at LJB@sportlaw.ca

 

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