The first step in improving safety and minimizing liability for schools and youth sports organizations is to establish a concussion management plan that is compliant with applicable laws, regulations, and guidelines. The most effective plans should be organization specific and should be established with input from qualified medical and legal professionals.
Additionally, implementing the following actions can further improve the safety of athletes and minimize risks and liabilities for schools and youth sports organizations.
- Educate athletes and parents/guardians on the Concussion Management Plan. Require acknowledgment of receipt and review.
- Educate and train coaches, volunteers, staff and other relevant parties on the Concussion Management Plan. Require acknowledgment of receipt and review.
- Prior to, and as a condition of participation, provide concussion education to athletes and parents/guardians. Education should consist of up to date materials from a trusted source such as the CDC. Require athletes and parents/guardians to acknowledge receipt and review of materials. Consider utilizing multimedia educational materials or education programs with built-in assessment tools to reinforce the retention. Provide ongoing access and annual review.
- Prior to, and as a condition of participation, require pre-participation physical examinations for every athlete. In addition to the standard physical examination, consider requiring the reporting of head trauma/concussion history, headache disorders and mental illness.
- Prior to, and as a condition of participation, require pre-participation concussion baseline tests for every athlete.
- Prior to, and as a condition of participation, provide concussion education and training to all coaches (including head coaches, assistant coaches and volunteers). Education and training should consist of up to date materials from a trusted source such as the CDC. Require coaches to acknowledge receipt and review of materials. Consider utilizing training programs that assess the coaches’ understanding of the materials. Provide ongoing access and semi-annual review.
- Limit instances of coaches acting as the primary care provider for athletes. In addition to the outward appearance of there being a conflict of interest between coach and athlete safety, coaches rarely share the expertise and judgment of qualified healthcare professionals. If the use of qualified healthcare providers is not feasible, then it is important for coaches to understand the importance of their role and to clearly document every incident and refer their athletes to qualified care providers asap after an incident has occurred.
- Ensure equipment is up to date and meets applicable certification requirements. Understand, however, that equipment can’t prevent concussions. The utilization of appropriate equipment plays only a small part in establishing safer, risk averse athletic organizations.
- Ensure your organization has a practical incident documentation plan.
- Perform an annual risk assessment of your sports organization. Specific areas of emphasis should include review of the Concussion Management Plan, an incident audit to evaluate how consistently written protocols are being followed, and an evalution of your oganization’s use of best practices.
- Document all head injuries and regularly review sport by sport injury trends. This, alongside other continuous improvement steps is beneficial because it demonstrates that your organization is committed to improving the safety of your athletes.