Spicing Up Safety

How do you keep your coaches interested (and awake) during safety lectures? Try one or all of these ideas, techniques, and shameless gimmicks.

By Dr. Richard P. Borkowski

Richard P. Borkowski, EdD, CAA, is a sport safety consultant based in Narberth, Pa. The former Director of Physical Education and Athletics at the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pa., his most recent book is titled The Athletic Administrator’s Scheduling Book, published by LRP Publications, in Horsham, Pa.

Athletic Management, 14.6, October/November 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1406/ovosafety.htm

While some lawyers and insurance agents might make you think otherwise, sport safety is not rocket science. The techniques needed to lower the chance of injury to athletes are no more complicated than the game plan of any sport.

The bigger challenge when teaching the topic to your coaches is that safety is not particularly exciting. No one yells from the grandstand, “We’re number one in safety!” Trophies aren’t awarded to the team that played the safest. Safety is boring. Except, of course, after there is a serious injury.

It’s taken me a long time to reach the conclusion that safe sports rests on a simple premise: the continual vigilance of those in direct supervision of athletes, the coaches. As I said before, this is not rocket science.

The athletic administrator’s role is to reinforce the skills of sport risk management. This article is about the ways and means of keeping safety first and foremost in the minds of the people with the whistles and clipboards.

Try one or all of these ideas, techniques, and shameless gimmicks to keep your coaches aware and sensitive. They also help keep people awake during preseason meetings.

1. Bring in a speaker. It could be your athletic trainer, the team doctor, or an outside consultant. I would also strongly suggest inviting the school’s lawyer. I can never understand why administrators don’t invite their legal counsel to school until after a problem occurs.

2. Show a safety related videotape. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) offers several excellent videotapes. Rick Ball of the BASIC Foundation has produced tapes on the duty to warn. The Coalition of Americans to Protect Sports (CAPS) is another source. (See Video Resources at the end of this article for contact info.)

3. Make your own videotape. Grab an audio-visual person and come up with some ideas that demonstrate poor and excellent coaching. Use your coaches and students as the actors and you will have a tape that is very popular, funny, and gets the message across.

For example, the football coach demonstrates how to spear, and the field hockey coach shows how to avoid being hit with a back swing. It’s not Hollywood, but it’s a great attention getter. The coaches will go from “I can’t do that” to “Can we do a second take?”

4. Hand out a multiple-choice quiz that lays out a few athletic situations. For example, the official doesn’t show for your game: What do you do? A serious injury occurs and you are the only coach on site: Do you stay with the athlete or run for help? The coaches select the best answer. The discussion following the exercise can be lively and educational.

5. Have an open forum. Explain a complicated situation to your coaches, and ask them to discuss how they would handle it. Ask veteran coaches to verbalize their thought process and encourage rookie coaches to ask a lot of questions. Let the discussion go off on tangents and see what areas your coaches are struggling with. This is a good way to cover the various legal duties of a coach.

6. Ask a coach or two to report on his or her sport as it relates to safety. “What are the problems and hazards in my sport and how can they be corrected?” This allows coaches in other sports to understand the thinking behind being vigilant about safety.

7. Visit fields and facilities. Instead of having a meeting in a classroom, take a walk around the fields or indoor facilities. Ask if there is anything wrong. When I did this, coaches knew I would “prepare” a few problems, and their competitive nature kept them focused on being the first to find a safety hazard. For example, I would remove an anchor from a portable soccer goal, untie a football goal pad, or leave a discus on the field.

8. Try role playing. This entails is creating a situation and asking the audience to respond.

For example, I had a wrestling coach demonstrate to two wrestlers the various illegal holds. A student walked up behind the coach to ask a question. When the coach turned around to answer the student, the two wrestlers tried out an illegal hold. One was injured. The question was: How could this have been avoided? The value is the discussion that follows the performance.

9. Use a slide show or PowerPoint presentation. Throw some pictures on a screen and ask, “What’s wrong, if anything, with this situation? How could it be corrected?”

10. Don’t neglect individual conversations. Nothing beats the basic face-to-face chat. Take time to watch practice and share ideas.

11. Review current information. When you find a good article on safety, make copies for your coaches. When you hear a good story about sport safety, share it.

12. Review the statistics of injuries. I recently did a safety audit at a camp in New Hampshire. The camp has always been a good example of excellence. Nevertheless, when I reviewed the number of injuries that occurred over the last five years, the staff was surprised. No one was aware of the total number of injuries.

This was a wake-up call. They were good, but they knew they could be better. That is the value of continually selling safety in any way you can.

Safety in sports comes down to coaches being aware of and vigilant about the known risks of participation. The athletic administer must remind his or her coaches of this important responsibility on a regular basis. So get out there and do some selling!

Video Resources:

National Federation of State High School Associations:

The Basic Foundation:
(602) 863-7919

The Coalition of Americans to Protect Sports (CAPS):
(800) 338-8678