Back to school sports safety recommendations: Ask the right questions – USA TODAY High School Sports
With the start of school nearing and thus the beginning of fall sports, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) offers these key questions to ask schools to ensure the best training practices are in place.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our student athletes as they prepare for fall sports and activities,” NATA President Scott Sailor, EdD, ATC., said “Ask the right questions of your child’s school. Ensure protocols are in place and confirm who is on the sports medicine staff, including athletic trainers, to prevent and manage injuries should they occur. We can then collectively help provide an environment where young athletes can excel at sport and know their safety is paramount.”
- Who comprises the school’s sports medicine team? Find out who will provide care to your child in case of an injury, and ask to review their credentials. Many schools and sports teams rely on athletic trainers or parents with medical and first aid training and certification to keep kids safe. NATA also recommends that any medical decisions are made by the school’s sports medicine professionals (physicians and athletic trainers) and not the coach to avoid conflict of interest. Coaches and even the athletes themselves may unconsciously make decisions that favor winning over safety.
- Does the school have an emergency action plan? Every team should have a venue-specific written emergency action plan (EAP) for managing serious and or potentially life-threatening injuries. It should be reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service, and individual assignments, emergency equipment and supplies need to be included. If an athletic trainer is not employed by the school, other qualified individuals need to be present to render care.
- Is the equipment in working order? Make sure all equipment ranging from field goals, basketball flooring, gymnastics apparatus and field turf are in safe and working order. This also includes emergency medical equipment such as spine boards, splint devices and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) – which should be checked once per month; batteries and pads need consistent monitoring and replacing. Accidents can occur in every activity, and that is why the AT should be on site after school to help ensure all equipment is safe and in good order.
- How qualified are the coaches? A background check should always be performed on coaches and volunteers:
- Coaches should have background and knowledge in the sport they are coaching. They should be credentialed if that is a requirement in the state, conference or league.
- All coaches should have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), AED and first aid training.
- Coaches should strictly enforce the sports rules and have a plan for dealing with emergencies.
- Are locker rooms, gyms and shower surfaces cleaned on a regular basis? With the advent of MRSA and related bacterial, viral and fungal skin infections reported in recent years, it is critical to keep these surfaces routinely cleaned and checked for germs. Athletes must be discouraged from sharing towels, athletic gear, water bottles, disposable razors and hair clippers. All clothing and equipment should be laundered and/or disinfected on a daily basis.
- Does the school have an AED and someone who knows how to use it? AEDs can save a life and stave off a catastrophic situation. Ensure that the sports medicine team and other personnel know where they are located and how to use them. They should be readily available within three minutes (preferably one minute) during both practices and games.
Preparing kids for sports participation
- Get a pre-participation exam: All athletes should have a pre-participation exam to determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation. A young athlete’s underlying medical condition can be exacerbated with vigorous, sustained physical activity.
- Physical and mental preparation is paramount: Parents, with input from coaches and athletic trainers, should determine whether their children are physically and psychologically ready for the sport/activity level they’re playing. A young athlete should not be pushed into something he/she does not want to do. If an athlete has been injured and is returning to sport, it’s critical for him or her to have the right mindset and confidence to return to play and avoid repeat injury. If an athlete does shows signs of mental distress, the athletic trainer, coach and school mental health professional should work together to provide that athlete the best care.
- Share an athlete’s medical history: Parents should complete an emergency medical authorization form that should ask for parent contact information, the athlete’s medical history and permission for emergency medical care for that athlete. Check with your school to obtain the forms.
- Get educated on reducing risk of injury: NATA has launched a public service campaign including a website, www.AtYourOwnRisk.org, to provide comprehensive information on reducing risk of injury in work, life and sport. The site includes interactive state-by-state maps, risk assessment quizzes, sports health specific educational material and resources for parents, coaches and others.
Individual athlete concerns and considerations for the sports medicine team
- Beat the heat: Acclimatize athletes to warm weather activities over a 7 to 14-day period. This includes heat acclimatization, hydration and modifying exercise based on environmental conditions, among other criteria. It is suggested that for the first two days in sports requiring protective equipment, only helmets should be permitted (this includes goalies as in the case of field hockey and related sports); during days three to five only helmets and shoulder pads should be worn; beginning on day six, all equipment can be worn.
- Use your head: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are between 1.6 million and 3.8 million brain injuries occurring in sports each year and 63,000 occur in high school sports alone. Be certain the medical team is well educated on concussion prevention and management and that the school provides education to the athletes as well. Some state concussion laws require schools to educate parents too. The athlete should be encouraged to speak up if he or she is hit in the head and suffering from any related symptoms such as dizziness, headache, loss of memory, light headiness, fatigue or imbalance.
- Be smart about sickle cell trait: All newborns are tested at birth for this inherited condition, and those results should be shared during a pre-participation exam. Red blood cells can sickle during intense exertion, blocking blood vessels and posing a grave risk for athletes with the sickle cell trait. Screening and simple precautions may prevent death and help the athlete with sickle cell trait thrive in his or her chosen sport. Be aware of warning signs including fatigue or shortness of breath that may indicate an athlete is in danger.
- Build in recovery time: Allow time for the body to rest and rejuvenate in between seasons. If the athlete has just finished the basketball season and has his or her sights set on baseball, make sure there is rest time built it to recover from the rigors of grueling months on the court. If athletes don’t make time for recovery, injury can occur. Acclimatizing to the next sport, with appropriate strength, flexibility and balance training, and the supervision of an athletic trainer, will help ensure a healthy season ahead.
- Pay attention to sport specific injury prevention: Any repetitive motion can lead to overuse injury. With baseball, it may be the turning of the torso and impact on the hip or the repetitive motion a pitcher goes through each time he or she throws a ball. These motions can put added stress on the joints, muscles or ligaments with sudden movement or rigorous activity increasing the chance of injury. Following a protocol of flexibility and strength training is integral to a young athlete’s participation.