Player safety is a topic that’s at the forefront of discussion in the football world today, from the highest level down to the grass roots. The Lake Country Chiefs are no exception, with a solid system of protocols in place. And just as important, that system is built on a foundation of professionalism and communication.
Dave Deane is a medically trained EMT, and is officially a part of the staff of the 8th grade team his son D.J plays. In reality, Deane serves all 13 teams, from fifth grade through eighth grade, is a regular presence at games beyond his own team’s, and is in frequent communication with all the coaches and parents.
“There’s really good cooperation between the coaches, EMTs and the Fire Department,” Deane said. The Chiefs have an EMT present at every game, and if Deane isn’t there, you can see one of his colleagues on the sidelines. They do a lot of foot-taping, bandaging and icing. And they are there to make the call if an ambulance should ever be required.
Player safety, like anything else, needs to start with a firm foundation and Deane was quick to praise the coaching staffs across the board, for their emphasis on proper tackling, keeping the head up and going across the body, rather than ramming a helmet directly on a opposing player.
Good fundamental football and safety are goals that go hand-in-hand, and the reason the NFL is currently having problems is that too many players are showboats, and not because of any inherent problem in the sports itself. Deane says–and having watched all 13 teams practice at some point this season, I agree–that the Chiefs coaches put their kids on a firm foundation of fundamentals.
Then there’s the importance of communicating with the parents and it starts before the first practice. “I like to do it in person,” Deane said. A preseason meeting with Chiefs parents affords the EMT the opportunity to tell them his role–and emphasize that he’s there to help.
A more subtle problem area for the kids is after about a month of practice. “The kids are getting run down, they’ve started school, and they’re trying to keep up with everything,” Deane said. It’s then that he sends out a reminder e-mail to all the parents stressing vitamins, fluids and rest, all the while emphasizing that when in doubt, they should defer to the judgment of their family doctor.
Concussions are the hot-button issue when it comes to player safety, and the Chiefs have clear rules that are followed when a player exhibits concussion-like symptoms. These can be anything from dizziness to seeing stars. If these symptoms are detected, the player is immediately removed from the game and can only return upon getting clearance from his family physician.
Perhaps more work comes in the smaller, “nagging” injuries that come up during games, from sprains to jams. One of the hardest things to gauge in sports–at any level–is when someone is “hurt” and when they are “injured.” In the former case, a player has to learn to play through some soreness. In the latter, the player needs to be sidelined, genuinely unable to play.
The kids are an essential part of this process and having to work through whether they are hurt or injured is a prelude to life after school when they have to exercise judgment on things like when they’re just a little under the weather or whether they’re truly sick and should call off of work. The fact Deane is truly a part of the staff with the Chiefs make this challenging job a little easier.
“I’m getting to know them,” the EMT said. “I know their pain tolerance. If you kid that plays through anything starts saying something hurts, you know there’s something there.” He uses a 1-10 test to ask kids to gauge the pain, and anything over a “5” raises alarm bells.
Deane provides a tremendous service to the Lake Country Chiefs, it’s coaches, parents and players. But he sees himself as the fortunate one. “I’m happy to be a part of the staff,” he said. He added that he couldn’t design a blocking scheme or a defensive coverage, but helping the players with their physical well-being is a way he can contribute.
We might also add that simply knowing a trained professional, with a good working knowledge of these particular kids, is a great source of security for coaches and parents. “I enjoy it, working with the kids,” he said. “I enjoy each and every kid.”
“This is eighth grade football,” Deane said. “Your health is more important.” All the Chiefs kids are competitive, but Deane and his colleagues are the ones who make sure that competitiveness doesn’t lead into doing something imprudent. And when, on those many positive occasions that a player comes out of the game, but proves to be fine and ready to re-enter? “I tell the kids to turn around give a thumbs-up, so their parents see them,” he said.
Thumbs-up is the right phrase. How about a thumbs-up to entire player safety program, from Deane, to his fellow EMTs to the coaches and to the parents.