Reducing risk in sports: What your school needs to know to prepare for emergencies

Scott Sailor, president of National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

Scott Sailor, president of National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.

In the spirit of competition in high school sports, injuries may occur. Fortunately, the majority of acute or chronic conditions can be managed with proper care while a small number may be catastrophic and come with no advance notice. Being prepared for a potential emergency is critical and will provide the greatest chance of a positive outcome. That’s why it’s important for coaches, administrators, parents and student athletes to be ready, should that unforeseen incident occur.

Here are a few key recommendations to ensure your school is prepared for a potential emergency:

  • Check to see if your school has a written emergency action plan (EAP). This is the blueprint for handling an emergency situation, and one should be available for every venue. Among the items addressed will be emergency equipment, communications and transport. The plan should also identify personnel and their responsibilities to carry out the plan of action with a designated chain of command, as well as health care professionals who will provide medical care during games, practices or other events.
  • Each EAP should be developed by the coaches, athletic trainers and other medical professionals, as well as your school’s safety staff. It should be distributed to medical and athletic staff, in addition to school administrators and should be reviewed and rehearsed every year.
  • Make sure your school has an automated external defibrillator (AED) on campus. It should be easily accessible and checked regularly to ensure that it’s in working condition. An AED may save a life in the case of a cardiac emergency.
  • Your school should post the location of all emergency equipment and conduct a readiness check before every scheduled athletic activity. This includes AEDs, which should be strategically located to allow immediate retrieval and use within three minutes of recognizing an emergency.
  • Ensuring that athletes acclimatize progressively to training demands and environmental conditions will help reduce risk of injury and emergency situations. Conditioning should be phased in gradually: the first seven to 10 days of any new cycle should be considered transitional. Exercise and conditioning should not be used as punishment.
  • Athletic trainers (ATs) should be on site for practices as well as games since more than half of sport-related injuries occur during practice. ATs are experts in emergency care as well as injury prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Young woman performing warming up exercises

Having an EAP is important for high schools to have in place for both practice and games.

A proactive approach to emergency preparedness will ensure your school is implementing the right policies to help reduce injuries and catastrophic outcomes. Keep in mind there is no cost associated with developing an emergency action plan. Surprisingly, fewer than one-third of all states in the country meet best practice recommendations that every school or organization sponsoring athletics develop an EAP for managing serious and or potentially life-threatening injuries. To see how your state is doing or assess the risk for your student athletes, visit

As you take a look at what’s being done to keep young athletes safe in your area, keep an eye out for those who go above and beyond the call of duty. The Youth Sports Safety Ambassador Award, created by NATA, is designed to recognize the contributions of health care professionals and other who work hard to protect these athletes. Visit by December 2, 2016, to learn more and make a nomination.

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