Tips for managing the risks associated with intramural and sport clubs.
With sports like lacrosse, hockey, boxing, rugby and wrestling, it is only a matter of time before students get injured playing intramural and sport clubs. It is not a question of if students will get hurt, but when. Therefore, it is crucial to have adequate measures in place to manage and hopefully reduce risk.
Here are a few key areas to consider, in order to help you develop the best possible risk management plan.
While working as the director of campus recreation at the University of Mary Washington, Mark Mermelstein discovered a need to address concussions within the intramural and sport club realm. “We knew we had a significant number of reported concussions that were happening within the sport club community, and we obviously knew there was a definite need to provide more advanced care and education,” said Mermelstein.
He realized the industry was lacking an advanced care model for concussion management. “We needed to do something for student athletes in the program to make sure that if there is a suspected head injury, they are evaluated immediately and that there is some long-term care, so they are not put back into play when they shouldn’t be,” explained Mermelstein.
Developing the concussion management model involved four basic components. “One was the collaboration among professionals — the hospital, campus rec professionals and the sports medicine program — to find out what the process would be,” added Mermelstein. “That was important for us because we weren’t the experts in concussions.”
Next, the campus recreation team worked with the varsity athletic trainer to pinpoint the high-impact sports based on the concussion rates, and identified 10 different sports that are now baseline tested prior to participation.
Once high-impact sports are identified, it is essential to inform first responders on recognizing symptoms of potential concussions. “Have them understand that when there is a suspected injury, that athlete is to be immediately removed from play and tested on site,” he said. “Should they fail any portion of the test, it is recommended that they visit with a health care professional immediately.”
Finally, ensure the entire campus recreation team is briefed on the importance of upholding the concussion management model. “Every year we brought the sport club community together and talked about the importance of not only trying to prevent those injuries, but also the seriousness of a head injury and what that meant to athletes,” explained Mermelstein.
While instituting an emergency action plan is necessary for all campus recreation departments, Sean Ries, the director of campus recreation at the University of Alabama Birmingham, suggested developing a plan that is simple and easy to implement.
“I developed an emergency action plan using codes,” said Ries. “We were using walkie-talkie’s and we didn’t want to get too in-depth on them and scare members. So we came up with a code system.” For example, code blue is a minor emergency, code silver is a major emergency, code violet is violence and code yellow is power outage.
Ries explained the code system is easy for students to follow. “Come up with a plan that is simple for your staff,” he explained. “Don’t make things more difficult than they need to be. You might have an 18-year-old working for you, so make the responses simple.”
An effective emergency action plan involves extensive staff training. “We audit all of our staff on their skills,” added Ries. “If we have learned anything through risk management, practicing hands-on will make you more comfortable. I would hate for my staff to get called into an emergency and not feel prepared because we didn’t provide them with adequate training. That is a failure on my part.”
Managing paperwork can be a tedious task, however it is essential to ensure the proper risk management protocols are upheld. According to Marcus Jackson, the associate director of club sports, intramurals and outdoor adventures at the University of Michigan, when a student gets injured the first step is to have them fill out an injury report form on the spot.
Prior to participation in each and every intramural or club sport, students must also sign waivers as a part of the participation agreement. “Make sure waivers are present and accessible,” said Jackson. “I think that sometimes we assume these things are happening, when in fact they are not. They are the kind of thing that will tend to fall by the wayside if not paid attention to. So I would make sure those are happening, as well as making sure students show proof of medical insurance.”
Dealing with all of the risks associated with intramural and club sports can be a lot to manage. Ries suggested putting together a risk management team to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“Having a risk manager on the campus to help focus on those things is important. For example, making sure the trauma bags are ready, the AEDs are up to date, etc.,” added Ries. “Someone needs to be focused on that. Everything will flow better if you have a risk management team in place.”