Student Well-Being

New Guidelines Target Sudden Death in Athletic-Conditioning Sessions

By Bryan Toporek — June 28, 2012 2 min read
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To ensure safety for collegiate student-athletes in conditioning sessions, coaches should progressively increase the intensity of workouts to allow athletes to acclimate, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends in a position statement released this week at its annual meeting.

While the position statement specifically addresses collegiate athletes, many of the recommendations, if implemented by the NCAA, could have trickle-down effects on high school sports.

In the new guidelines, NATA notes that 21 NCAA football players have died during conditioning sessions since 2000, 11 of which occurred in either the first or second day of workouts.

However, since 2003, when new NCAA rule changes regarding heat acclimatization for football players went into effect, no player has died during a practice or game.

NATA’s new guidelines contain a total of 10 suggestions for improving the safety of student-athletes in conditioning sessions. Beyond the recommended acclimatization period, NATA recommends that schools verify the credentials of their strength and conditioning coaches (S&CCs), develop an emergency action plan for student-athletes, and not use conditioning sessions as punishment for student-athletes.

“It’s vital that we administer collegiate conditioning sessions with appropriate oversight by educated and experienced strength and conditioning coaches,” said Jay R. Hoffman, president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, in a statement. “They in turn should work in collaboration with athletic trainers and team physicians and follow an adhered-to plan of gradual acclimatization to each workout session.”

This isn’t the first time NATA has preached the value of emergency action plans. Last December, at its third annual Youth Sports Safety Summit, the organization released a position statement that encouraged all schools with sports teams to develop and practice an emergency action plan.

Notably, within the last year, a few youth-sports associations have made similar changes to the ones proposed this week by NATA. The Texas University Interscholastic League banned two-a-day football practices for the first four days of the season to allow student-athletes to acclimate themselves to the often sweltering heat. Earlier this year, the Georgia High School Association revised its rules based on previous NATA recommendations regarding heat acclimatization.

Granted, neither Texas nor Georgia’s rule changes focus on conditioning sessions; practice is their main focus.

Richard H. Adler, chairman of the executive board of the Brain Injury Association of Washington, spoke on Wednesday in favor of the new NATA recommendations.

“These guidelines are a great resource to prevent easily preventable tragic and catastrophic deaths, reduce financial and legal risks, and make sports more enjoyable for participants, their families and fans,” he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released similar recommendations last year that focus strictly on heat acclimatization. The AAP’s guidelines suggest that all student-athletes go through a mandatory 14-day graduated return to physical activity, allowing their bodies to get used to the heat before increasing the intensity of their workouts.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.