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Crisis Management Plan for Youth Sporting Events

Author: Jeff Konin, PhD, PT, ATC

University of South Florida

Medical emergencies are inevitably a part of all youth sporting events. Unlike at professional and most intercollegiate games where properly trained medical personnel are employed and on hand immediately, such situations are often handled impromptu at youth sporting events by those who happen to present at the event. In many cases it is the coach, in some cases a caring parent, and yet sometimes by luck of the draw a parent or fan also happens to be in the medical profession. Our children are all too valuable for us to allow for a randomized method of care when it comes to medical emergencies. Today, more kids than ever are participating in organized sports, and many of these at ages younger than we as parents could ever imagine. Did you really think that there would be organized soccer leagues for 3 year olds? Or what about t-ball for kids who have just barely mastered the developmental phase of walking? Either way, there is a large increase in participation that has not been matched by an increase in accessible medical care at these events.

It is probably unrealistic to expect that we will see the same type of medical coverage at youth sporting events that we see at professional events anytime soon. However, it is important that we prepare in an equally as important manner to be ready for medical emergencies. After all, it is the least we can do and we owe it to our children! The most secure method of managing a medical crisis at a youth sporting event is by establishing, disseminating, and implementing a standardized and well-designed crisis intervention plan. Standardized crisis intervention plans are utilized in high school and university settings, as well as professional sporting events. There is no reason that the same type of planning and implementation can’t be integrated into youth sporting events.

They key to reaching the goal of having a comfortable plan in place is a step-by-step process that is assessed on a regular basis to be sure the plan remains accurate. A good plan includes 1) identifying the roles of individuals involved with managing an on-site crisis, 2) having accessible and accurate communication information, 3) an algorithmic approach to the steps involved with medical emergency management, 4) standard methods for documenting an incident and 5) a plan for review of the events that occurred.

Step 1: Identifying the roles of individuals involved with managing an on-site crisis

Perhaps the single most important criteria to define when one plans for managing crisis and emergency circumstances is to be sure that people understand their roles. Handling an emergency requires a sense of calmness and urgency all at one time. This is a time for efficiency, organization and leadership. Define roles of people ahead of time. For example, you could establish a standing procedure that in any emergency circumstance the head coach of the home team is responsible for calling 911. If for some reason the home team head coach is the one who needs care, then a simple back up plan could be established as well on a regular basis. Other roles could be to keep other parents and fans calm, to clear an area of further potential danger, to establish a clear path for a rescue squad, and to stand by the road to meet the squad and direct them to the location. These are just a few examples of roles that can be established with minimal planning needed.

Step 2: Having accessible and accurate communication information

People care about loved ones. One of the worse situations you can find yourself in is trying to contact someone and deliver bad news about a loved one and not be able to reach them. Accurate and updated information for all players and coaches emergency information should be handy in a number of locations. Having such information in the pocket or folder of a single person is not good enough, as it is possible that the individual may not attend a game here and there and not realize they have the important information. Keep this information in a safe and accessible place, and be sure to constantly remind people to update as needed.

Step 3: An algorithmic approach to the steps involved with medical emergency management

Established consistent procedures always help people in times of crisis. They allow individuals to rely on what they know, and from what they know in a sense of “this is how we always do it”. Based upon your sport, facility location, and typical personnel available, you should develop a sequence-based chain of events to follow by. For example, things to include would be attending to an injured person, directing the home team head coach to call 911, keeping people around calm, etc….Individual facility and geographical locations will assist in determining additional steps needed for a complete approach.

Step 4: Standard methods for documenting an incident

Medical emergencies are serious events. And one can never underestimate the importance of information gathered related to the history of how an event was handled. Whether it be to assist a medical provider in diagnosing an injury based upon how someone was hit by a ball, or to provide factual information for potential legal action from any incident, detailed information of the events are important. A recorder should be identified as well with the sole responsibility of taking good notes for others to review at a later date. Preparation and training sessions can help here, demonstrating the types of information that are critical to document. A simple 10-minute video can be made showing an event, and having people write down their own description of the event. A review session can then follow to point out key components.

Step 5: A plan for review of the events that occurred

All good leaders spend time debriefing major decisions. When a medical emergency occurs at a youth sporting event, it typically happens very fast. Before you know it, the field is cleared and the injured person is rushed off to a hospital. It is so important to bring a group of key individuals together after such an event to review the circumstances. Read the documented notes that were taken, and determine what aspects were handled well, and what aspects could be improved upon for future emergencies. This is not designed to be a finger-pointing session, or one to strategize a cover-up of any wrongdoing. Open and honest dialogue that will benefit all future situations is a productive and meaningful way to operate.

With the largest number of participants, coaches, parents, venues, and variety of sports, youth sports pose the greatest threat to utilization of standardized procedures for handling medical emergencies. Nonetheless, adolescents and children deserve no less attention and medical care than more developed and funded levels of sports participants. The diversity of coaching involvement at the youth sport level further emphasizes the need for standardized approaches nationwide to handling medical situations. Be proactive: Implement a plan for the children!

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