Though professional athletes have access to top healthcare professionals and state of the art facilities, tightening budgets in U.S. school districts often leave high school sports participants without protective services or proper care after injury. To address this problem, the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, a group of more than 100 organizations committed to the safety of young athletes, released the first-ever “National Action Plan for Sports Safety,” a guide for districts to protect student athletes.
“We’re raising awareness for parents, administrators and athletic groups that we are not taking care of our student athletes who get injured,” says Jim Thornton, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, which founded the safety alliance. “Over 2 million kids sustain injuries every year in youth sports, and probably only about 20 percent of them actually have somebody there to take care of them,” since only 42 percent of high schools have access to an athletic trainer, and even fewer have a full-time trainer.
In 2012, 40 young people died while participating in athletics, he adds, which might have been avoided if schools had athletic health teams to look for warning signs and manage injuries. Despite tight budgets, schools should prioritize hiring an athletic trainer, he says, whose responsibilities include advising on protective gear and treating injuries.
The action plan calls for schools to have a comprehensive athletic health care program and team, and assure safe practice and play facilities that are regularly inspected and cleaned. Though 43 states have passed concussion legislation, it is important to draw attention to other conditions that may impact student athletes, including sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death for young athletes, he says. The plan urges schools to adopt safety measures to protect students from cardiac events, neurological injuries, environmental conditions (such as heat illness), and performance-enhancing drugs.
These measures include encouraging schools to:
• inform athletes and parents of potential risks in sports
• emphasize individual responsibility to avoid injuries
• have a plan for selecting and maintaining athletic equipment, as well as training for school staff.
Administrators can meet with school boards and booster groups to make funding plans, he says, and find ways to provide appropriate health care. “These young athletes have a right to these types of services,” Thornton says. “When they’re on the field with a school’s name across their chest, representing that school in an athletic event, we have a responsibility to provide what is necessary to keep them safe.”
To read the report, visit www.youthsportssafetyalliance.org.