INDIANAPOLIS – Emergencies are rarely predictable and that’s why having a detailed plan matters, especially when it comes to the health and safety of young athletes.
That was the underlying theme as health care experts released comprehensive emergency medical recommendations for youth sports leagues Tuesday at the 8th annual Youth Sports Safety Summit. The findings of a task force that originally convened in 2015 also were published in the Journal of Athletic Training on Tuesday. The task force was led by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Korey Stringer Institute.
“Our kids deserved preparedness,” said Robert Huggins, the vice president of research, athlete performance and safety at the Korey Stringer Institute. “We need to be proactive. Sometimes our human nature is to be reactive and wait for something bad to happen …
“We’ve seen too many parents have to say goodbye to their child. They deserve that preparedness. They deserve to be able to go home at the end of the day with their family.”
The Sports and Fitness Industry Association says nearly 31 million children ages 6 to 14 participated at least once in sports or activities in 2015. Studies show 3.5 million children under 14 are treated annually for sports injuries.
The guidelines cover creating emergency action plans for sudden cardiac arrest, catastrophic brain and neck injuries, exertional heat stroke, potentially life threatening medical conditions, environmental issues such as lightning and access to medical services.
Beyond creating the plans, the task force called for youth organizations to develop training programs and education members on sports safety practices and create a reporting structure to monitor compliance.
Huggins called the task force’s document “probably the most important document ever released at the youth sports level.”
“There have been no safety documents to date at the youth sports level that have really focused on the emergency best practices,” Huggins said. “This is the first of its kind to comprehensively look at all of those together and identify policy change and procedures that we know will improve health and safety. It’s been shown at the NCAA level, the professional level and the high school levels are improving and getting better with their policies. … I think youth sports should follow suit. It’s a natural progression.”
There is no one organization that rules all of youth sports; each sport has its own national governing body. The task force got commitments from national governing bodies on what key policies they would implement in terms of the emergency assistance plans and changes to their organizational structure. The national governing bodies would then disseminate the information to regional and local leagues.
“Because the national governing bodies operate independently, implementing best practice safety policies remains a challenge,” said NATA president Scott Sailor. “This document is the first of its kind to serve as roadmap for policy and procedures. …
“We recognize some of this is aspirational. If there is not a policy in place or a policy that can immediately be implemented, we hope to move them in this direction. … Our document contains a lot of valuable information, but we will commit to following up and getting them information and disseminating it in format to get in the hands of policy makers and that might be the soccer mom. There is saying that nothing is more powerful than a soccer mom.”
Huggins pointed out that the document is structured in an easier to use way than many medical studies or journal articles might be.
“Every single bit of information in the text is also in checklist form — tear it out, take it with you, write stuff in it and use it,” he said. “And then say, do I have this, do I have this or this?
“No one is bigger than the checklist and that’s the head emergency room doctor or the person observing the surgery. The format is forward facing and marketable and easy to understand for parents. We’re really hoping the novel part of this is the check list that can be distributed to parents, coaches and medical personnel and everyone gets to see this document.”
Alexandra Flury from Safe Kids Worldwide noted that education is among the best means to improve safety at the grassroots level.
“We recognize it might be difficult to implement all of this, but the (document) can be a starting point,” she said. “This creates dialogue between parents, coaches and organizations and which items are appropriate.”
A key point was that parents need to know about safety and policies in place rather than assuming they exist or that coaches and league officials have the proper training.
“We have a very serious duty to make parents smarter consumers in youth sports,” said Jon Butler, the executive director of Pop Warner Little Scholars. “There’s become an elevated expectation of the volunteer youth sports coach.”
Huggins noted that parents need to know that in many cases, “the simplest prevention strategies are not being taken to keep them safe from a health and safety standpoint.”
Parents need to ask questions.
“The (document) has many things that parents won’t think to ask of their school, their program or coaches,” said Dr. John Jardine, an emergency room physician. “You go to a physician, you know the level of training. Are the coaches trained? Is there a certain level of expertise? There is a level of training we want to ensure across the board.”