Part of my job with the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) is to make sure that our members bring their issues to state legislators and other policy makers. In 2009, when Washington passed the Zackery Lystadt Law on concussion, it really got our attention. We felt that, finally, here was an action taken by a state that recognized young athletes suffer from serious injuries.
We leveraged this action to get the public’s attention. It happened when there were congressional hearings on concussions in the NFL. A lawsuit was brought by players in the NFL, so there was a lot of public attention. While it was a hot topic, we started discussing the lack of medical care for young athletes. The pros, the elites, even colleges have fabulous coverage for their athletes. The kids playing in middle school and high school are the most vulnerable and the most likely to be severely injured in sports. There are 2,000 NFL players but almost 5 million kids playing high school and youth football.
Six years later and it’s still a hot topic. We are gratified by how far we’ve come, but feel that there’s still a lot to do. The bottom line for the NATA is who is watching the kids while they play sports? Who is taking care of them? We know coaches are being required to get more training or learn the signs and symptoms of some illnesses and injuries, but their primary job is teaching the kids how to play.
We decided it was important to get everyone under the same tent to talk about the big issues with the goal to provide adequate medical care in schools when kids are playing. It’s crucial to have someone who knows how to take care of any health problem that might arise – that’s the athletic trainer.
The athletic training profession is unique in its health care delivery. Athletic trainers handle prevention, acute management, and then rehabilitation after an injury. They are prevention experts through strength and conditioning, and nutrition counseling. If an athlete is injured, they help minimize the injury because they were prepared, knowing you can’t eliminate all risk of injury. They’re also experts in knowing what to do, how to triage on the field when an injury happens. Is this something we need to call 911 for? Is this something that we need to make sure we don’t remove the helmet?
They help manage when the doctor has released the child and they return to work and play after a concussion. The athletic trainer helps ease their transition. It’s a gradual return to play so that they are healed and they’re less likely to have a permanent injury as a result.
We’re on a quest to educate parents, legislators, the public, and the students themselves. As I said before, we’ve made progress, but there is more work to be done. We need to change the culture and for that, we need your help. Support National Athletic Trainers Month this March and learn more about how your state can make a difference for youth athletes.
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