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USA Volleyball’s Release of Return to Play Guidelines

It has been five days (May 13th) since USA Volleyball released an update on its Corona Virus Response page, allowing the resumption of sanctioned activities starting on May 15th. The announcement delivered ‘Return to Play Guidelines’ that coincided with the safe restart of practice, training, and, potentially, competition. You can access the full guidelines via PDF on the USAV website, and there is a lot to go through, but we’re here to breakdown the major points and interpret some of the finer points for you! 

Right off the bat, USAV states that “All USAV sanctioned activities will be required to adhere to the most stringent federal, state, or local guideline for their respective areas. USAV insurance coverage will only be provided for activities that are allowed under such government directives.” So yes, activities can resume, but ONLY if the corresponding state and government have reached the allowing step in their reopening plans. So for those states who are not as far along in the process, returning to practice or play still isn’t an option. 

USAV has broken down volleyball activities into three categories of low, medium, and high risk. Spoiler alert, basically any activities outside of one’s own household, is considered ‘high risk.’ But none the less, they are stated below.

Low Risk – Individual skill development (passing drills, blocking, hitting, setting, serving, general fitness, strength training) at home (backyard, driveway, in-home), alone or with household members, and with owned and sanitized equipment.

Medium Risk – The above activities in public spaces alone or with household members; individual skill development with non-household members following the recommended physical distancing and sanitizing volleyballs.

High Risk – Individual skill development with non-household members not following the recommended physical distancing & not sanitizing volleyballs. Participating in any team or group play.

The PDF also breaks down guidelines for individually safeguarding participants against the contraction and spread of the Corona Virus before, during, and after high-risk volleyball activities. The full bullet-point list is available in the PDF, but the main points are similar to the hygiene policies to which we are currently adhering, face masks, intensified hand washing, social distancing, and those laid by AAU for their Nationals even, which has recently been postponed to the new start date of July 14th.

In regards to the policies and procedures for clubs and club facilities, things get a bit more complicated. Outside of expected escalation of sanitizing and disinfecting, clubs and coaches must continually enforce social distancing policies, limit the number of people within a club facility, and “Modify drills or activities to limit/reduce potential violations of social distancing requirements including but not limited to: high fives, huddles, and team meetings.”  

 Modifying drills shouldn’t be much of an issue because coaches normally enjoy and embrace getting creative and innovative, but studies have shown that teammates who have physical contact (I.E., high fives, huddles, back pats, handshakes) tend to play better. Add in that all players are touching the same ball, and you’ve got some serious policing to do. It’ll be tough, but it is possible to disinfect each ball after use and continue swapping out balls after each rep, but it does take away from the flow of the drill. Still, practice is on, at least in some states. 

The guidelines for venues and events are more thorough and pose a few more questions, specifically in regard to officials and their responsibilities. According to the guidelines, events must “limit officiating teams to one R1 per match who shall keep the visual score on the stand, require officials to use hand whistles in lieu of traditional ones, and emphasize court time management by officials to reduce the instance of courts getting behind schedule and contributing to crowds waiting by the court.” Though one of the other bullet-points mentions the venue providing sanitizing materials for scoring tables and official’s stands, it puts the responsibilities of score-keeping on the referees and establishes that there would be a work team consisting of a minimum of a book keeper but no mention of libero tracker, and nothing about whether or not line judges would be utilized. 

USAV also chose to “suspend the protocol of teams switching sides in indoor play. In the event there is a clear and distinct disadvantage, then teams will switch sides, observing all social distancing protocols.” But what defines a distinct disadvantage? Is it space beyond the boundaries of the court? Is it lighting on one side of the court over another? Or is it something as simple as a loose square of sport court? Who would serve to judge whether a disadvantage exists? It may seem knit-picky, but at this point, players, parents, and coaches are more than familiar and accustomed to social distancing, wearing masks, and taking extra precautions in regards to sanitization and stopping the spread of the virus. If they’re willing to travel to a tournament, their focus may fall primarily on the volleyball, as virus precautions are already second nature to most at this point, and the USAV protocols are fairly sound. That’s assuming there will still be tournaments to be played. 

Our plan is to check in on those states and clubs that are once again permitted to organize and carry out practices and in-person training, gauge how they are handling the new guidelines, and get a better understanding of what this new volleyball landscape will look like with the given instructions by USAV. Perhaps USA Volleyball can even offer up some clarity on questions regarding some of the more challenging guidelines, and how much responsibility will fall on officiating. Stay tuned for updates and insight soon. 

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