DALLAS, April 29, 2015 –With spring here and summer around the corner, young athletes are stepping onto the playing field with renewed energy and proper preparation and injury prevention are paramount. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has re-released sports safety tips to ensure parents and others are well educated and that schools have established the best sports medicine practices.
“It’s important to have the right sports safety protocols in place to ensure the health and welfare of student athletes,” says Larry Cooper, MS, ATC, LAT, chair of the association’s secondary school committee. “By properly preparing for practices and competitions, young athletes can excel on the field and stay off the sidelines with potential injuries.”
Currently, only 37 percent of U.S. public high schools have a full-time athletic trainer (AT). According to Safe Kids Worldwide, 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice. Schools that employ at least one full-time AT, the gold standard of care recommended by NATA, are better prepared to protect their student athletes during this particularly high-risk part of athletic participation.
Key Questions to Ask Schools and Ensure Best Practices in Place
1. 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.
2. Does the school/league have an emergency action plan?Every team should have a venue-specific written emergency action plan, reviewed by the athletic trainer or local Emergency Medical Service. Individual assignments and emergency equipment and supplies need to be included. If an athletic trainer is not employed by the school or sport league, other qualified individuals need to be present to render care. Only 22 percent of states have met the recommendations that every school or organization sponsoring athletics develop an EAP for managing serious and or potentially life-threatening injuries.
3. 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 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Does the school have an AED and someone who knows how to use it? Many schools today have automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on site during competitions which if used efficiently and effectively can save a life and stave off a catastrophic situation. Ensure that the medical expert and other personnel know where they are located, how to use them and that they are placed on sidelines during both practice and games.
Preparing kids for sports participation:
7. 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.
8. 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 mind set 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.
9. Share an athlete’s medical history: Parents should complete an emergency medical authorization form, providing parent contact information and permission for emergency medical care for the student athlete. Check with your school/league to obtain the form.
Individual athlete concerns and considerations for the sports medicine team:
10. 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; during days three to four only helmets and shoulder pads worn; beginning on day five, all equipment can be worn.
11. Use your head: 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, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be certain the student athlete and medical team are well educated on concussion prevention and management and that the athlete is encouraged to speak up if hit in the head and suffering from any related symptoms including dizziness, loss of memory, light headiness, fatigue, or imbalance to name a few.
12. 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 deaths 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.
13. 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 build 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.
14. 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 athletes’ participation.
"It's critical that all members of a school's sports medicine team (athletic trainers, physicians and school nurses) work together to help prevent, manage and treat injuries or illnesses should one occur,” says Cooper. “With a team approach we can reduce acute, chronic or catastrophic injury and ensure a successful season all around.”
General and published 2015 resources:
Collaborative Solutions for Safety in Sport
High School Benchmark Study
Student Athletes with Psychological Concerns Consensus Statement
Sixth Youth Sports Safety Summit
Case histories and parent advocate resources available upon request.