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7 Best Sports to Play With Friends While Social Distancing

While the nation contemplates reopening in some form or another, we’re all left wondering what’s truly safe. It applies to everything we know and do, from social interactions to public schools.

When it comes to sports, some adhere to social distancing protocol better than others. As the recent news cycle suggests, this is not exactly the right time for football. Major collegiate conferences are postponing fall seasons knowing full well that a sport that involves so many players and fans in one spot is a COVID hot spot waiting to happen.

The CDC advocates for drills and conditioning at home, either on your own or with immediate family. It warns sharply against full team competition, especially with teams from varying geographical areas. Basketball is great, but there’s simply too much contact and a very frequently shared ball. For now, let’s just enjoy the NBA bubble on TV. Soccer is grand but a full match consists of 22 players puncturing every six-foot bubble on the pitch. Play pass or catch with a friend, but avoid the full-scale versions of said sports.

Yet, not every sport involves close contact with many others. Some allow for spacing, ventilation, and even physical solitude, ensuring the health of you and your friends. So as the pandemic enters fall and we continue to grapple with its severity, let’s try the following for sporting bliss:


Young Men Playing Tennis
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Tennis is a great option as it tends to involve just a pair of people and plenty of space. Even doubles is viable as it’s pretty easy to honor your partner’s bubble while playing. As an added bonus, the majority of the shared contact with the tennis ball is taken on by a racket instead of your hands. It’s also a sport that while physically taxing, can be played comfortably at most levels while wearing a mask. Other sports that fall under the tennis umbrella include pickleball, table tennis, and soccer-tennis (the latter is exactly what it sounds like, give it a try sometime). Squash is tempting but given that it’s indoors, it’s not advised.


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While a climbing gym is not the best bet right now you can still get your bouldering fix in. Find a good slab of rock outside and get started. Because you’ll likely be ascending the same runs on the same rock faces as others, pack plenty of sanitizer or opt for a pair of climbing gloves. Don’t know how to boulder? We’ve got you covered. If you want a real dangerous thrill, you could try urban climbing or “buildering,” but there’s likely only one of you in your circle of friends insane enough to try, so it’s not really a social sport. 


cyclingWith all the fresh air and open roads tied to the sport, cycling is ideal for these times. Riding with a group is fun as you can still be in earshot while keeping the bubble, allowing you to chat as you burn some calories. Many of America’s roads are quieter than they usually are due to the obvious, so take advantage by hopping on the saddle. Better yet, go for a new distance record. You’ll be amazed at how many miles you can knock out in a day on two wheels and you’ll sleep better at night after the workout. Just avoid the traditional Peloton mode of group cycling.


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Golf is a natural fit as it tends to promote a certain privacy and not much in the way of shared equipment. Your crew is protected as play happens with staggered tee times. It’s also one of few sports that caters to drinking, so pack a to-go cocktail or a box of wine to share. Disc golf, or frolf, is a suitable option as well as the rules and layout are much the same.


Man playing e-sports
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This one is a gimme as it takes place from the comfort and safety of your own home. Granted, you’ll probably not get the exercise you were hoping for but you will be able to scratch the competitive itch. If physical activity is an important part of the equation, get off the couch or out of your desk chair and play standing up. The e-sports category is so broad that there’s something for everybody, from traditional games like FIFA to fantasy and group combat games. 


Young ballet dancers practicing at dance studio
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By now, we’re so apt at Zoom communication and the like that we’re tired of it. Instead of orchestrating the 50th virtual happy hour of the pandemic, jumpstart a dance party with all of your friends and get the lead out. You can keep it fun with a high-energy playlist or take it to the next level by cueing up a workout video that you and your pals can take on. Set your view to gallery mode and see who’s dancing the hardest in the group, in the spirit of sport. 


Young Man Swimming
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Thus far, the CDC has found no evidence that the virus can spread by way of recreational waters. That doesn’t mean your local pool is open, necessarily, as pools tend to draw crowds and the gatherings themselves are potentially dangerous. The type of swimming we’re talking about here is the more natural kind, in lakes, rivers, and oceans. Seems like a solo enterprise but it can be a blast with friends if you set up a race or play a round or two of dodge ball. Maintain your bubble but there appears to be no need to worry about contamination by way of water. The relative safety of the water opens the doors to other sports as well, like surfing, rowing, and standup paddleboarding, provided the usual preventative measures are taken.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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