Richmond, VA (September 16, 2020) –  A new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin suggests that the incidence of reported COVID-19 cases among youth soccer players is not increased compared to the national pediatric case rate.  Dr. Drew Watson, a physician at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Chief Medical Advisor of the Elite Clubs National League, worked with the league’s clubs to collect data for the study.  Ultimately, data was received from more than 120 clubs from 34 states, representing more than 90,000 youth soccer athletes in various stages of training and competition throughout the country.

“Participation in sports has tremendous physical and mental health benefits for children, and we have seen worrisome increases in physical inactivity and symptoms of depression and anxiety among adolescents in particular during the COVID-19 restrictions.  As sports resumed in different parts of the country, however, it was unclear whether this would result in an increased risk of COVID-19 among participants.  Our goal was to try to provide some early information that would contribute to the ongoing discussions around the country about if, when, and how to reinitiate youth sports,” commented Dr. Drew Watson. “This nationwide data collection is the first effort we are aware of that attempts to measure the disease burden in youth soccer. In the near future we are hoping to replicate this among other youth sports so that we can continue to develop sport-specific evidence to aid with local decision-making.” 

Earlier this year, the University of Wisconsin reported findings from a nationwide survey of adolescent athletes that demonstrated the significant impact of school and sport cancelations among youth athletes, where 40% of youth athletes reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression and 37% reported symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety. 

These new findings in the COVID-19 in Youth Soccer study further support the need for data-driven decision making and are adding much needed insights on the known rates of COVID-19 among youth soccer players. 

“There has been so little data of any kind on the real burden in, and risk from, participation in youth sports during COVID-19, so when Dr. Watson approached us about this study, we immediately offered to help connect him with clubs across the country to ask the questions he needed,” said Christian Lavers, ECNL President. “We already knew that children were being adversely impacted by the inactivity created by various COVID-19 suspensions, and Dr. Watson wanted to see if there was any clear evidence of increased COVID-19 infection from playing youth soccer.”

The University of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 in Youth Soccer study offered several valuable findings:

  • Data was collected from 124 clubs representing over 90,000 players who have returned to play in more than 45,000 training sessions and 6,000 games since re-starting an average of 10 weeks prior to the survey.
  • 71 clubs (57%) had progressed to soccer participation that involved contact / unrestricted play in training or competition.
  • 100% of the clubs reported they had a formal COVID-19 plan in place to reduce risk.
  • A total of 325 positive cases were reported, including 282 positive cases in players, and 43 positive cases in staff.
  • Of the 325 positive cases, 1 case was reportedly traced to transmission in soccer.
  • No cases were reported to result in hospitalization or death.

The 282 reported positive cases in youth players represents a rate of 310 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 children.  In comparison, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, during the 10 weeks prior to the survey (6/18/2020 through 8/27/2020) the nationwide case rate among children in the United States was 477 cases per 100,000 children.

The Executive Summary of the COVID-19 in Youth Soccer study can be found here:

In the past several months, in partnership with Dr. Watson, The ECNL has published a series of materials to support youth soccer clubs, coaches and organizations as they evaluate best steps for their players and families for returning to soccer.  These resources included specific Return to Play Recommendations, and a white paper to support more informed decision-making regarding youth sports and the impact of inactivity. The ECNL is committed to continue sharing new findings and insights to support all impacted by the sport as they make decisions regarding participation in sport. 

Resources from The ECNL:

Return To Training Recommendations

Return To Competition Recommendations

A Balancing Act: Understanding the Impacts of Inactivity on Youth Athletes

About the ECNL:

The ECNL is the nation’s leading youth soccer development platform. The ECNL respects and celebrates the unique individuality of every youth soccer player and club, supporting and enabling them to unleash their unfettered passion and fierce tenacity in striving to achieve their potential. 

The ECNL mission to Raise the Game is a total commitment to create the best possible environment for players, coaches, referees and administrators, with a determination to constantly question convention and challenge the status quo in youth sports.

The ECNL Commitment:

We will lead, set our eyes on new horizons, and pursue them relentlessly. 

Girls FB:  /theECNL |  Girls IG: @theECNL  | Girls TW: @theECNL

Boys FB:  /ECNLboys |  Boys IG: @ECNLboys  | Boys TW: @ECNLboys


Mary Conway