Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Playing Safe: Coaching Sports Safety

Amanpulo Cruz is a famed varsity basketball coach in a university in the province. He has trained many up-and-coming basketball players who have become big stars in professional basketball. Mr. Cruz has long retired from coaching but remains a die-hard basketball fan until now. When asked what the most important lesson he thinks he has taught the players who went under his tutelage, he says, “More than how to play the game, the best lesson that I instilled in my players is to play safe. I tell them, ‘Unless you have ambitions to play in the Special Olympics, nobody will cheer for a limping basketball player.’”

Coach Cruz’s lesson on safety may well be the nugget of wisdom every Physical Education teacher or varsity team coach shares with his or her class or team. Or is it?

Safety in sports is important to prevent students from causing injuries to each other, to make the sports more enjoyable for the students by keeping their minds off worrying about getting hurt, and to maximize the time the students can play sports by keeping them healthy and in good condition.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth More than a Pound of Cure
The cliché is never truer in the case of sports injuries. Here are some tips to ensure that your students are safe in the sports that they are playing:

1. Wear proper protective gear. Different sports require students to wear different protective gears. The more common protective gears are

a. helmets that protect the head in sports such as biking, football, in-line skating, skateboarding, baseball, etc.;
b. eye protection which is either attached to the helmet or in the form of a pair of goggles. It protects the eyes from getting hit in sports such as baseball, softball, ice hockey, racquet sports, basketball, etc.;
c. mouth guards that protect the teeth, tongue, and the whole mouth in sports such as boxing, wrestling, martial arts, football, basketball, hockey, etc.;
d. wrist, knee, and elbow guards that protect specific body parts from fractures and scrapes in sports such as biking, in-line skating, etc.;
e. protective cups for male students who play contact sports such as wrestling, martial arts, boxing, and even basketball, baseball, or soccer;
f. pads that protect the joints and bones from fractures and bruises in football or hockey where players hit each other with not-so-gentle body bumps as part of the game;
g. footwear that will protect the feet and prevent the students from tripping or falling or slipping off the bicycle pedal. It should also be the right type for the specific kind of sports and be in good condition.

2. Use sports gear and equipment properly. Check if the students’ gear fit them perfectly. A loosely fitting helmet or pair of goggles will not serve its purpose and may instead contribute to the injury. Remind them as well not use sports equipment and gear to hit an opponent during a game or somebody else outside of the game. A badminton racquet should be used to hit the shuttlecock, not their opponent’s head.

3. Do warm-ups and cool-downs and practice often. At least 15 to 30 minutes of warm-up exercises prepare the students’ muscles for the strenuous activity during a game while cool-downs of the same length give their muscles time to relax and adjust to rest after the strenuous activity.
Constant practice does not only make the students good at sports. Familiarity to the rules and techniques of how a sport is played decreases the students’ chances of getting injured while playing it.

4. Stay protected from the sun. Remind the students to apply sunscreen. Exposure to the sun during outdoor sports such as track and field or beach volleyball may get them sunburned, which is an injury to the skin. Constant unprotected exposure to the sun may also increase their chances of developing skin cancer later in life. The heat also dehydrates the students. Make sure that they have plenty of drinking water while playing.

5. Know the rules. The rules of sports are meant to keep players safe. Tell your students that sticking to these rules would mean having more fun while playing the sport.

6. Rest when injured. Injuries cannot be totally eradicated in sports. When injured, students should not be made to play to avoid more damage.

7. Get proper training. The training your students get from you as physical education teacher or coach is very important in ensuring their safety in sports. Contrary to perception, training does not only include tactics and techniques to win a game. It also includes ensuring that the safety guidelines above are observed at all times.

Dealing with Sports Injuries
In the event that injuries do happen, Coach Cruz says, “How you react to it will play a big role in salvaging the already bad situation.” In general, it is best to treat injuries right after they happen. If the injury is characterized by swelling, limping, or affects the students’ range of motion, it is best to seek medical assistance right away.

Here are some common sports injuries and tips on what to do when they happen:

1. Injuries to ligaments, muscles, or tendons are very common to sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, or track and field. Sprains or injuries to ligaments and strains or injuries to either muscles or tendons may be treated using the RICE technique.

Rest. Pull out the injured student from the game and assess the injury. The injured area should not be used for 48 hours.
Ice. Most strains, sprains, or bone injuries manifest through swelling, discoloration, or pain. Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the injury for 20 minutes every hour until the pain or the swelling subsides, and 4 to 8 times per day afterwards.
Compression. Swelling may occur in injured ankles, knees, or wrists. Protect the injured areas and limit their swelling by wrapping them with a stretchy bandage.
Elevate. Raising the injured area above the level of the heart will limit blood flow towards the injury and keep it from swelling.

2. Injuries to the neck are very common to almost all types of sports, and probably one of the more dangerous and delicate to deal with. These injuries may range from strains, fractures, contusions, and sprains. Students with neck injuries should be kept still until medical assistance arrives. A mishandled neck injury may lead to paralysis or death.

3. Injuries may be sustained from the overuse of muscles and tendons. Overuse injuries happen as a result of extended, habitual motion or impact; they are not immediately recognizable as they occur over a period of time. They do not manifest in x-rays, but do cause the student an alarming amount of pain and discomfort. These injuries may be treated using RICE and the appropriate medical attention. Most overuse injuries improve with rest. However, there are cases when the student may have to undergo physical therapy afterwards to recover the optimal use of the injured area.

4. In adolescents and growing children, a type of overuse injury in the areas of developing tissues called growth plates is common. Growth plate areas include the bones in the fingers, the collarbone, the outer bone of the forearm, the hip, the upper leg bone, the lower leg bones, the ankle, and the foot. Injuries to these areas should be immediately brought to the doctor.

5. Heat-related injuries such as sunburn, heat stroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion may be had from playing rigorous sports outside in hot weather. In the case of the common sunburn, move the student to a covered area and loosen his/her clothing. The sunburned area should be moisturized and dipped in cold water or applied with cold compress. Cases of heat strokes, the most serious of all heat-related injuries, should be given immediate medical attention. The student’s body should be cooled with ice or cold water. If the student is conscious, he/she should be made to drink cold water.

Whatever kind of injury your students or even yourself get during sports, it is very important that you seek medical help immediately after applying the necessary first-aid treatment.

After Treatment
After administering the necessary medical treatments, the doctor may advise your student to not play while he or she is recuperating, to still continue playing but use appropriate protective gear, or to get physical therapy. In the case of a very serious injury, the doctor may tell your student to stop playing the sport. Your role as a teacher or coach is to make the injured students understand the options that are available to them. The severity of the sports injury may be life-changing for the students. That is why your and their parents’ counsel is much needed to give the students the assurance and comfort that they need.

Sources: (accessed 12 July 2005) (accessed 12 July 2005) (accessed 12 July 2005) (accessed 12 July 2005) (accessed 12 July 2005)

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