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Protect yourself and your players

This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Football by Jim Dougherty & Brandon Castel.

Your biggest administrative duty is dealing with the medical side of sports. Football is a contact sport. Injuries are going to happen, so it is important that you protect not only your players but yourself as well. Many leagues will require your players to provide proof of insurance before their first game, as well as a waiver form signed by their parents. If your league does not require these documents, you should still consider making them a prerequisite for the players on your team.

It is also a good idea to have medical cards like the one shown in figure 1.2 on file for each kid, along with a copy of his annual physical. These will prove vital in the case of a medical emergency. The medical cards should include emergency phone numbers, doctor's information, and any existing medical conditions, particularly those that might require medication to be administered during practice. These forms should be kept with you at all times whenever the team is meeting (it might be easiest to keep them with your first aid kit). Having them in your car or at home in a file does no good for you or the player should a medical situation arise.

Figure 1.2 Sample Medical Card

It is also important to keep your cell phone nearby for a quick 911 call in case of emergency. Football is a sport designed to have high-speed collisions, so it's particularly important that a coach have some kind of first aid training. Some leagues and parks will require coaches to be certified in first aid. Even if yours does not, a CPR class through the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross is highly recommended. Emergency response teams will get there as quickly as possible, but every second counts in a medical crisis. As the adult on the scene, you are the first line of defense, and your ability to respond until the paramedics arrive could make the difference.

Most injuries you encounter as a coach will be minor bumps and bruises. Bloody noses and sprained ankles are about the worst of it, more often than not. Occasionally, however, you will be faced with a serious injury. Broken bones, separations, and dislocations are a part of football, so it is important to be ready for them. Notifying the parents and calling 911 should be your first plan of attack. In the event of a head or neck injury, it is imperative not to move the player until paramedics arrive. Do not even try to remove his helmet unless the player is up and walking around or he is not breathing.

Even with the extra padding inside football helmets today, concussions are a very real part of the game. Even at this level, where hits rarely happen at the type of speed you would expect to result in a concussion, a helmet-to-helmet collision can be a scary moment for any coach. Concussions are very serious because they change the way the brain functions, and you should not wait until after practice to address these injuries. Even if a player never loses consciousness, he could still be concussed. Table 1.1 provides the symptoms an athlete may experience or those you may notice in a player. If a child exhibits any of these signs after a collision, you should immediately notify the parents and call 911.

Table 1.1 Concussion Symptoms

In addition to the previously mentioned injuries, consider familiarizing yourself with medical conditions such as a diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy. For example, if a player you know to be diabetic becomes shaky, pale, clammy, dizzy, or disoriented, it is important to pull him out of practice. Call 911 immediately, and alert the player's parents. Along those same lines, one of the scariest things that can happen to a coach is for one of his players to have an epileptic seizure during practice. It not only is frightening for the other players but also causes coaches to feel helpless. In this situation, it is best to move the other players and objects away from the child while calling 911 and the parents. (Notice a theme developing here?)

More Excerpts From Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Football