Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Does your School Stack Up on Sport Safety?

The intention of this week’s post is to help parents understand how to assess their child’s school sports safety program.  The focus will be on high schools, since most legislation and policy standards focus on school sponsored activities.  This doesn’t mean that you should not hold your youth league organizations to the same standard, but it just means they may not be held to the same legal standards depending on the legislation on record in your state.  There are a variety of resources and programs that can give you a glimpse into various programs that can help parents.  I will highlight the NATA’s Safe School’s Program and policy resources available via the Korey Stringer Institute.  I selected these organizations because I believe they provide the most useful information in one place, making it easier for parents to access as much information as possible with as little searching as possible.


KOREY STRINGER INSTITUTE RESOURCES:
 
KSI, led by Executive Director Doug Casa, PhD, ATC, FACSM, FNATA (check out his previous blog feature), is focused on policy-making, education, research and advocacy in the area of preventing sudden death in athletics.  A particular area of expertise for KSI is exertional heat illness (EHI), but time is spent addressing other conditions that could lead to sudden death (Just check out their education and research tabs).  As part of the policy-making arm KSI has developed a series of policy recommendations for states when trying to make youth (especially HS) sports safer.  KSI has taken the time to create graphics that can help you understand whether or not your state meets any or all of the recommended guidelines in a specific area.

Guidelines for High Schools are available in these areas:
 

These graphics are relatively easy to understand and allow you the option to click on your specific state and “drill down” to the specific policies that may or not be in place.  For example, if you’re interested in understanding more about heat acclimatization guidelines be sure not to scroll past the summary information to get to the interactive map.  This summary information clearly delineates the research supported KSI recommendations (which you’ll need to know to understand the map).  Once you know the recommendations go ahead and see how you’re state stacks up to others based on the overall graphic.  If you want to know the specific recommendations your state meets, click on your state to learn more.

 If you want to be an advocate for your state and get all KSI recommendations supported, KSI is willing to work with individual states to get guidelines in place, if it’s not already happening.  There are many states that do not have all the recommendations in place at the high school, so there is work to be done.  Ultimately, I would love to see these guidelines be required with youth sport organizations as well.


NATA SAFE SPORTS SCHOOL:


The Safe Sports School Award is a recognition program initiated by the NATA in March 2013.  A review of the application packet delineates all the guidelines for being designated as a 1st team or 2nd team school.  First team schools meet all recommendations, while second team schools only meet required recommendations.  The list of requirements include:
 
 
 
  • Create a comprehensive athletic health care administrative system
  • Provide or coordinate pre-participation physical examinations
  • Promote safe and appropriate practice and competition facilities
  • Plan for selection, fit, function and proper maintenance of athletic equipment
  • Provide a permanent, appropriately equipped area to evaluate and treat injured athletes
  • Develop injury and illness prevention strategies, including protocols for environmental conditions
  • Provide or facilitate injury intervention
  • Create and rehearse venue-specific Emergency Action Plans
  • Provide or facilitate psychosocial consultation and nutritional counseling/education
  • Educate athletes and parents about the potential benefits and risks in sports as well as their
  • responsibilities
 
The application clearly delineates what each of these concepts include and of those which are required and which are recommended.  The NATA does not dictate how the school and/or district works to meet these requirements outside of utilizing current position statements to develop relevant policies and procedures.  A few other things that you need to about this award program are 1) there is a non-refundable application fee and 2) the application packet clearly states that award designations are made by the NATA, based solely on the information reported by the school.  There is no submission of supplemental documentation or on-site verification required.  As an individual professional I would like an additional verification process, but that does not mean the award is not a useful designation when it comes to understanding the level of commitment to athlete safety at your child’s high school.
Once you understand where you’re state, league and high school stands on these safety recommendations you become better prepared to protect your children during sports participation.  It is always important to follow up with your school and understand how specific policies are executed beyond the general recommendations delineated here.  The ability to execute these policies and procedures in an emergency is what truly protects athletes.  Proper execution requires regular review and hands-on practice of policies and procedures. 
So, does your school meet the recommended guidelines?  Are the relevant emergency procedures practiced regularly?  If you can answer “yes” then your child is participating at a safe school.  If the answer is “no”, it doesn't mean your child's school is completely unsafe, it may means there is still some work to do.  What are you doing to make things better?

Heather L. Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC

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