What if?

By Brian Gotta

A pretty young girl, suddenly scarred for life. A group of five year-olds with broken noses and shattered teeth. A young boy who is in a coma with brain damage. Is this an article about a war-torn region of the world? No. Here are some things I have witnessed in youth sports.

Please excuse the graphic nature of this opening paragraph, but if it gets your attention, it served its purpose. Nothing in youth sports concerns me more than safety. And a walk past my local Little League’s T-ball field brought this topic back to mind. With baseball and soccer seasons beginning across the nation, I felt there no better time to make another plea for us all to be as careful as possible to avoid injuries.

Last week, as I approached a little league field where youngsters were playing their first game of a new T-ball season, I immediately noticed several safety issues. Bats were stuck through the inside of the fence so that if a player went after a foul ball he could run into them. Equipment was laying around waiting to be tripped over. But the most frightening thing I witnessed was that the team up to bat had seated all of the little boys and girls waiting for their turn only about five feet away from the hitter. I quickened my pace as I approached, seeing them bring a batter up to the plate. He took his first, surprisingly hard swing, and missed. He swung again, even harder. I envisioned the bat flying out of his hands and, if it had, into the faces of several of the waiting children. I reached the field and asked the coach who was putting the kids in line to please scoot them back, way back, so that they were out of harm’s way. He did so gladly, but I walked away wondering why he needed me to inform him that these little ones were in danger. Maybe someone from the league had already covered safety issues and this team either didn’t pay attention or forgot. But it looks like a refresher course is urgently needed.

Several years ago I was coaching my daughter’s softball team. I was talking to the opposing head coach before the game and pointed out that the field’s chain drag was laying in foul territory, about a ten feet behind first base. It was curled with sharp, rusty edges exposed. I said to him, “Imagine if a girl were to be running back to catch a foul ball and tripped and fell onto this.” The grave expression that came over him told me he was imagining the awful consequences of a 10 year-old girl who would need facial plastic surgery and live with permanent scarring if this happened. We moved the drag to the other side of the fence, but it had been laying there for several games before ours that day.

And here is an incident that really did occur in my league, though I did not witness it. At a coach-pitch practice, kids were swinging bats and not wearing helmets. One of the players got too close to another and was hit in the head. The ambulance came to the field, he went to the hospital with a concussion, but luckily was otherwise OK. How fortunate he and the league were that the injury was not more severe.

So this season, at every practice and at every game, think safety first. Take your most pessimistic self and look around the playing area for everything that could possibly cause injury. And just making the field safe is not good enough. We all know balls can travel far from the boundaries – and kids chase after them. Everywhere a child may venture needs to be cleared of equipment and any hazards.

Keep a vigilant watch from the moment the first player arrives until when the last player leaves, anticipating danger. Playing baseball, softball and soccer can be perilous enough with sprained ankles, collisions and a whole slew of other unavoidable accidents. Let’s make sure the risks that are avoidable are not added to the mix.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.

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Coaches Curriculum for Injury Prevention

Our partners at STOP Sports Injuries have developed a tremendous curriculum toolkit all youth sports coaches should read prior to their first games and practices. Contained within is instruction on preseason conditioning and proper warm-up, overuse injuries, concussions, and heat illness. This can be downloaded and sent to league coaches and/or as the basis for safety clinics. Download the curriculum toolkit here: AOS-103 Coaches Curriculum Toolkit (nm) 2.8[1].