Socially distanced sport in schools and clubs – what’s allowed as lockdown eases?

17th Jun 2020

Since early June, the UK government have been slowly easing lockdown restrictions, with participation in sport – for both physical and mental health – rightfully high on the agenda. With schools, businesses and some sports clubs cautiously opening up, we take a look at the latest guidance from the government, industry and sporting bodies.

This article looks at the advice for schools, sports clubs and leisure centres, to help you understand what’s possible when it comes to social distancing sport.

What sports are currently allowed during lockdown?

Whilst exercise was initially limited to once a day, with members of your own household, guidance has now eased to allow (social distancing) sport activity.

From June 1st, the government changed the rules so that those living in England may exercise with up to 5 other people outside of their household, so long as a 2m distance is maintained.

For some sports, such as tennis, this marked a return to (almost) normal play, where matches against others may be played. However, for group sports that require close contact between players – such as football and rugby – it was made clear that only group training would be allowed.

Here’s a breakdown by sport:


Football, Rugby, Hockey, Cricket, Netball, Basketball, Lacrosse and other team sports

  • Sports teams may train together in wholly separate groups of 6 people
  • Matches must not be played (including small-sided)
  • Ideally players should have their own equipment, but equipment may be shared if necessary, during drills – e.g. throwing a basketball or kicking a football between teammates – so long as hand hygiene practices are implemented



  • Players from different households may play doubles together
  • Small group coaching is allowed, with a maximum of 6 people (including the coach)



  • Tracks may reopen at the discretion of facility owners



  • Can be played with up to 6 people from different households


In all cases, social distancing guidelines must be adhered to, as well as increased hygiene requirements for any shared equipment and facilities. More information can be found on the government website.

With many sports now back on the table, for matches or training, let’s take a look at how sectors can maximise their offering under the new guidance.

Ensuring safe and varied sport in schools

Many schools have opened their doors to specific year groups this month, with new rules and regulations in place to limit the risk of coronavirus. So how do these new guidelines work with the government guidelines for social distancing sport?

First things first, there’s no doubt that physical activity remains an important requirement of schools. The UK government are actively promoting physical activity, particularly for ‘those children who have had limited opportunity for exercise’ during lockdown – who are encouraged to exert themselves at school.

The guidance states that PE Lessons may continue so long as they are strictly non-contact and involve one temporary group – also known as a ‘protective bubble’ – at a time. This means that PE may be taught in groups of up to 15, overruling the maximum of 6 people that applies to sport outside of school.

The Association for Physical Education have created a guidance document to help schools interpret government guidance.


Ways for schools to safely deliver social distancing sport include:

  • Undertaking PE lessons outside where possible, to support social distancing
  • Asking students to attend school in their PE kit on days when PE lessons will be held, to limit the spread of virus on clothing and the need for shared changing facilities
  • Limit, where possible, the sharing of equipment and implement strict hand washing routines
  • Ensure hand sanitiser and tissues are available to students throughout lessons to prevent the spread of germs
  • Carry out a deep clean of facilities, to minimise the risk of virus spread from surfaces

Where shared equipment and/or changing facilities are implemented, these should be cleaned before and after each lesson.


Promoting team spirit

Although matches aren’t allowed, it doesn’t mean that students can’t enjoy safely practicing their favourite team sports.

It’s been great to see many clients getting creative, finding ways to re-introduce the idea of ‘team’ sports with training drills for football, hockey, tennis and cricket that can be safely enjoyed from a distance, without equipment being shared by hand.

You can keep pupils’ competitive spirit alive by splitting your bubble into teams, and competing for:

  • Highest number of goals scored (football, hockey)
  • Highest number of wickets (cricket)
  • Longest rally (tennis)
  • Fastest completion of dribbling course (football, hockey)

All in all, there are plenty of ways to keep children safely engaged in their favourite sports, while still adhering to government guidance!

Maximising available facilities at leisure centres and sports clubs

Although gyms and indoor sports facilities are unlikely to open until 4th July at the earliest*, since June 1st outdoor sports facilities (such as tennis courts, basketball courts, football pitches) have been able to reopen, so long as the facility owner feels they are able to do so safely.

*The one exception to this is indoor sports facilities used by elite athletes, which have been allowed to open in line with the government’s two-stage programme for elite sport.

With coaches able to return to work and tennis, football, basketball and other sports back on the table (whether for matches or training – as in the top section of this article), those with outdoor sports facilities are now able to offer small group coaching and facility hire.


Ways to open, or partially re-open your outdoor facilities (and prepare for the re-opening of indoor facilities) include:


Undertaking a deep clean

Many sports governing bodies, such as FIFA, have advised that prior to opening it is advisable to undertake maintenance of your facilities, including a deep clean of sports courts and artificial surfaces to ensure that you minimise risk to users.


Staggering classes and alter class lengths

With coaching class sizes limited (for now) to 6 people including the coach, who must be socially distanced, it’s understandably difficult to generate the same revenue from classes that were previously jam-packed.

At the same time, staggering classes will likely be required, to limit the contact between different groups and allow for time to clean between sessions.

Ways to mitigate this could include reducing the length of class sizes, which could help to account for the extra preparation time, and allow more members to access your facilities overall.


Offering outdoor classes

If you don’t offer outdoor facilities such as tennis courts or artificial pitches (or even if you do!) there are still ways to re-introduce socially distanced sport if you have outdoor space.

Whilst perhaps weather dependent – you could move equipment outdoors to enable groups of 6 (including instructors) to resume the classes you usually offer indoors, such as spin classes, HIIT classes and yoga. David Lloyd, for example, have recently launched such classes.


Offering online classes

If you don’t feel that it is safe or economical to re-open your outdoor facilities, or your facilities are indoors, you could instead offer online classes or coaching to generate revenue.

This is exactly what Everyone Active did, launching their ‘Stay Active At Home’ platform during lockdown, a great way to keep members engaged until re-opening in the future.


Bringing a segment of your workforce back

From 1st July employers may bring back furloughed workers for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim from the job retention scheme for normal hours not worked.

If you want to re-open your outdoor facilities or begin offering online sessions, this is a way to slowly get your business up and running again while protecting your employees.


Requesting advance bookings + contactless payments

By taking bookings in advance online or over the phone, you’re able to limit social contact, whilst able to better manage employee time and resources.

If you still have someone in-house taking bookings, then making contactless or card payments mandatory, including face coverings for employees, should help to limit contact.


There many ways in which sports facilities owners can slowly begin to kick-start their offering for social distancing sport during the time of coronavirus. For further guidance, UKActive have put together a framework for the re-opening of gym, leisure centre and wider fitness industry during social distancing.

Sports club training – preparing for a return to match play

For community and semi-professional sports clubs, the situation is much the same as for leisure centres. Indoor facilities are not set to open until July 4th at the earliest, but outdoor facilities may now open, and the decision to re-open facilities or begin training will ultimately rest with the club.

At the current time, for non-elite team sport, match-play is not allowed but training is. All training should fall in line with government guidelines, which includes:

  • Maximum 6 people per training group
  • Limited sharing (where possible) of equipment and strong hand hygiene
  • Social distancing measures adhered to


Again, this still leaves plenty of room for drills and practice to keep your team on their toes, whilst keeping team spirit alive from a safe distance.

The government guidance on outdoor sport may be set to change when rules on indoor sports facilities are announced, so it’s worth getting training up and running now in preparation for the next step for your individual sport, which may include increased group sizes or reduced social distancing limits.

Most sports governing bodies have produced guidance for facilities re-opening, as well as roadmaps for the sport, to show what’s currently allowed, and what the next stages for training and match playing will be:



Common takeaways from all of these documents include:

  • Preparing facilities for use with inspections, maintenance and deep cleaning
  • Introducing measures to reduce social contact and enforce good hygiene habits
  • Undertaking risk assessments and adhering to current guidance while preparing for the next possible stages
  • Ensuring that any pitch certifications (FIH, FIFA, World Rugby) are valid and in-date prior to matches resuming


Whilst sport as we know it may not return for some time, it’s important for the sports, leisure and education sectors to ensure maximum availability of sports and sports facilities for children and adults alike. Let’s continue to build an active nation!

We’re working to support sport through Covid-19

If you want to ensure your facilities are safe and ready for use as lockdown continues to ease, please get in touch with us for a free assessment of your facilities. Our expert in-house maintenance division can carry out a deep clean and any necessary repairs of your pitch or court.