COVID-safe, comfortable and coming soon to a gym bag near you
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
| 8 min read
Let’s face it — in many places across the country, masks are now part of the standard uniform for just about every youth sport.
While some parents have raised concerns, experts, including at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), say cloth masks are a safe and vital way to limit the spread of the coronavirus during training, games and on the sidelines — as well as any time athletes can’t stay at least six feet apart, or are playing indoors.
And new evidence from a study (which has yet to be peer-reviewed) shows they work, says Dr. Susannah Briskin, a pediatric sports medicine specialist and chair of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “We have good data that people can exercise in them safely,” Briskin says, “and they prevent spread of COVID-19.”
The key is finding an affordable, comfortable mask that fits your child — covering both the nose and the mouth — and one they don’t mind wearing (which is often easier said than done).
Here are five athletic masks recommended for youth athletes by youth athletes.
UA Sportsmask, $30
This heavy-duty face mask from Under Armour is designed for athletes and comes with a water-resistant outer shell and an antimicrobial interior. It fits tight and snug on the face and, when fitted properly, doesn’t budge. It’s the mask of choice for Julia, a 12-year-old field hockey player from Massachusetts, because of the way it sits away from her nose and mouth, so she’s not inhaling the mask each time she breathes in.
AIRism by Uniqlo, $14.90
Devin, a 12-year-old soccer player from Oregon, wears the AIRism mask by Uniqlo. Cloth masks can get damp over time, which can make it more difficult to breathe. And Devin has asthma, so comfort and breathability is critical. These three-layered masks, which come with a washable, built-in filter, are made of synthetic fiber, so they don’t get as damp
Thimble Fox, $25
For the eco-warriors out there. Adeline, 9, from Colorado likes wearing Thimble Fox masks while playing basketball, skiing and snowboarding. These double-layered, tightly woven cotton masks are made of fair-trade cloth and come with a metal nose piece that makes it easier for her to wear her glasses while masked up. The style sits away from her nose and mouth for easy breathing, too.
Athleta, $20 for multi-packs
Athleta’s masks are top picks for both Anne, a 16-year-old volleyball player from Virginia, and sisters Avelin, a 10-year-old soccer and lacrosse player, and Carys, an 8-year-old soccer player and gymnast, from New Jersey. Anne prefers the pleated, three-layer Athleta masks, which stretch over the face. Avelin and Carys prefer the two-layer Athleta Girl Made to Move masks, which are more fitted.Disposable face mask, (price varies)
After testing a few styles, my 15-year-old’s favorite is a simple, non-medical disposable mask for soccer because they’re the easiest for her to breathe in. Same goes for North Carolina siblings Jackson, 15, Louisa, 13, and Charlie, 10, who all play soccer and take part in CrossFit. They’ll take two to practice. When one gets wet, they swap it out for the other one.
First, don’t give up. “It often takes three to four practices to get used to exercising in a mask,” says Briskin. “This is normal.”
Keep ‘em clean. Once you land on the right kind of mask, make sure to replace or wash it daily, per the AAP.
Keep it simple, for now. As new variants emerge, some countries have urged citizens to start using medical-grade coverings, and experts suggest doubling-up, for added protection. But Briskin says there’s no need to do so while playing sports. There’s no data yet on double-masking during exercise, she says, and medical-grade PPE — like N95 masks — should be reserved for medical use.
Remember the big picture. Dr. Graham Snyder, director of education for Wake Emergency Physicians in North Carolina and an emergency room doctor who spends about half his time treating pediatric patients, counsels parents and kids to take the long view. Not only do face masks reduce coronavirus transmission, they also make it possible for kids to gather safely. And that’s more important than ever as studies emerge about growing rates of mental health issues among isolated kids during the pandemic.
“Your goal as a parent is to get your child out there, interacting with other kids, exercising and being safe,” Snyder says. “If a mask is required, you need to do whatever it takes to get them to wear that.”