Safety First – Pre-Season Safety Checklist
© July 2013
With the 2013 season around the corner, it’s time for coaches to review all safety-related issues and ensure that proper procedures and protocols are in place before fall practice begins. . “Every team and athlete should have sports safety as a top priority,” says Larry Cooper, chair of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Secondary School Committee and head athletic trainer at Penn Trafford (PA) High School. “It’s vital for coaches, athletic trainers, parents and the athletes themselves to maintain good communication and follow guidelines to ensure all participants are fit for play.”
Here is a useful checklist from the NATA that will help you keep your athletes healthy and in the game this fall:
1. Players need 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.
2. Follow a team approach to care: In the case of injury, find out who will provide care 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. Yet less than half of high schools have access to athletic trainers.
3. Beat the heat: Acclimatize athletes to warm weather activities over a 14-day period. The goal is to increase exercise heat tolerance and enhance the ability to exercise safely and effectively in warm and hot conditions. Should heat illness occur, cool first and transport second: immediate cold water immersion is critical to reducing the athlete’s temperature rapidly. Determine core body temperature to best assess the athlete’s condition.
4. Use your head: Athletes should be encouraged to speak up if they are suffering any related symptoms (dizziness, loss of memory, fatigue). Concussions must be carefully managed using follow up assessments of symptoms, neurocognitive function and balance, prior to initiating a gradual return to play. Should a more serious brain injury occur, the medical staff should be prepared to transport the athlete to a facility, while ensuring adequate ventilation and elevating the head to decrease intracranial pressure.
5. Maintain heart health: Recognition is vital to treatment: sudden cardiac arrest should be suspected in any athlete who has collapsed and is unresponsive. Public access to early defibrillation is essential: a goal of less than 3-5 minutes from the time of collapse to delivery of the first shock from an automated external defibrillator (AED) is strongly recommended. Most schools now have AEDs. 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 competitions and games.
6. Ensure equipment is in working order: This includes emergency medical equipment such as spine boards, splint devices, AEDs (which should be checked once per month; batteries and pads need consistent monitoring and replacing).
7. Check that locker rooms, gyms and shower surfaces are clean: 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, including bags, should be laundered and/or disinfected on a daily basis.
8. Be smart about sickle cell trait: All newborns are tested at birth for this particular 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. Know the signs and symptoms (fatigue or shortness of breath) to differentiate this condition from other causes of collapse.
9. Ensure an emergency action plan is in place: Every team should have a 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 in the emergency action plan. If an athletic trainer is not employed by the school or sport league, qualified individuals need to be present to render care. Knowing that a school has prepared for emergency will give parents peace of mind.
10. Adopt a “Time Out” system: Each health care team should take a “Time Out” before athletic events to ensure emergency action plans are reviewed and in place. Determine the role of each person; communication coordination; presence of ambulance; designated hospital; test of all emergency equipment; issues that could impact the plan such as weather or other considerations.
11. Build in recovery time: Allow time for the body to rest and rejuvenate in between practices, games and even seasons. “Recovery time is essential,” says Cooper. “Without rest and a change of motion and activity, we put young athletes at risk of repetitive or chronic injury.”
12. Breathe easier: Athletes with asthma should be properly educated about their condition, appropriate medications, use of inhaler equipment and how to recognize “good or bad” breathing days to prevent exacerbations. A warm up protocol may decrease the risk of asthma or reliance on medications.
13. Stay smart about steroids: Use of anabolic-androgenic steroids can lead to a host of negative effects on the health and well-being of athletes and non-athletes alike. Be aware of signs and symptoms of misuse including: rapid body mass or increase in performance; extreme muscular growth; abnormal or excessive acne, unexplained hypertension, moodiness, aggression, depression or obsession with exercise and diet. Report this immediately to the athletic trainer or other school medical professionals.
“It’s critical that all members of a school’s athletic health care team, including coaches, parents, teachers and others involved in the care of the athlete have ongoing communication to ensure a safe sports setting,” says Cooper. “With those protocols in place, athletes can enjoy the great spirit, competition, and accomplishment that come from safe and fair play.”