With a slogan that reads, “Every Body Needs an Athletic Trainer,” the National Athletic Trainers’ Association has designated March as National Athletic Training Month.
Rather than featuring the profession of athletic training, though, the NATA is focusing on the National Action Plan for Sports Safety which was released last month by the Youth Sports Safety Alliance.
Committed to the prevention of catastrophic injuries and death in young athletes, member organizations other than the NATA include the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Their National Action Plan identified four major areas of risk for student athletes: cardiac events, neurologic (brain and spine) injuries, environmental/exertional conditions, and dietary/substance-induced conditions.
To mitigate those risks, the plan makes nine general recommendations for all schools:
1. Require a comprehensive athletic health care administrative program and an athletic health care team consisting of a physician, athletic trainer, school nurse and the athletic director.
2. Require safe practice and play facilities appropriate to each sport to reduce accidents and the spread of disease. Safe facilities are regularly inspected and maintained, routinely cleaned and accessible to treatment and/or transport areas.
3. Require a permanent, appropriately equipped area in which injured athletes may be evaluated and treated, because early assessment and intervention encourages proper healing and decreases the risk of re-injury.
4. Require a place for confidential conversations with athletes and parents about medical issues.
5. Require a plan for selection, fit, function and proper maintenance of athletic equipment, as well as training for school staff.
6. Require injury and illness prevention strategies, including protocols for environmental conditions. Educated personnel in every sport should understand and utilize professional guidelines for preventing and treating injuries and sports-related illnesses.
7. Require informing athletes and parents of the potential risks in sports as well as their individual responsibility to avoid and minimize injuries.
8. Parents should educate themselves in the potential benefits and risks of optional protective equipment.
9. Advocate for the creation of a national fatality registry of secondary school athletes who have died during or as a result of sports-related injuries.
Focusing on potential cardiac events, the plan requires automated external defibrillators (AEDs) be easily and immediately accessible in all venues with a designated person(s) trained in their use.
For neurologic injuries, the plan notes the benefits of early recognition, proper assessment before removing equipment and moving an athlete, and baseline concussion testing.
The first action a school should take to prevent environmental/exertional conditions is to “have established protocols for heat acclimatization, lightning and other environmental factors, with those guidelines incorporated into Emergency Action Plans (EAPs).”
In reference to dietary/substance-induced conditions, the plan warns, “Energy drinks, which are popular and legal, have un-researched ingredients and no known therapeutic benefit.”
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.