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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Is your child's coach a Coach Safely coach? It's the law

Adaveion Jackson, a 15-year-old football player, went into cardiac arrest during the first week of August practice. His Dale County (Ala.) High School coaches immediately went into action.

From performing CPR to retrieving an on-campus AED (automated external defibrillator) and administering it, from calling 911 to directing the ambulance, those coaches in concert did the right things at the right times with little margin for error.

Because they did, Adaveion was able to get to Flowers Hospital in Dothan, then UAB Hospital and Children's of Alabama in Birmingham. Surgery went well, and he's now back at home on the road to recovery.

How were a group of high school football coaches, in the heat of August, in the heat of a critical moment, able to perform like a finely trained emergency medical unit? Because years ago, on the counsel of its Medical Advisory Board, the Alabama High School Athletic Association mandated that its member schools adopt emergency action plans - and practice them.

Dale County's football coaches, led by head coach Don Moore, took that training seriously.

"Training coaches saves lives," Adaveion's mother, Chasity Newman, said. "I know because it saved my son's life."

What if a similar trauma occurred to a 12-year-old boy during a sweltering football practice at a community park? Or a 10-year-old girl playing youth soccer? Would the volunteer coaches, many of them well-meaning parents, know what to do and how to do it?

The CoachSafely Foundation was born and the Coach Safely Act was passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2018 to answer those questions.

That law, the first of its kind in the nation for youth sports, requires all government or sub-government agencies in Alabama with property used for high-risk sports to train their coaches in an online or classroom course focusing on the prevention and recognition of injuries for athletes age 14 and under. High-risk sports include, but are not limited to, football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and lacrosse.

The Coach Safely course for youth coaches provides comprehensive, broad-based training in seven areas, as mandated by the Coach Safely Act: (1) Emergency preparedness, planning and rehearsal for traumatic injuries; (2) Concussions and head trauma; (3) Heat and extreme weather-related injury familiarization; (4) Physical conditioning and training equipment usage; and (5) Heart defects and abnormalities leading to sudden cardiac death. In addition, the Coach Safely course includes training related to (6) Overuse injuries and (7) Emotional health of the Child-Athlete.

"Parents wouldn't let their kids go to a pool without a lifeguard," said Drew Ferguson, a CoachSafely Foundation board member, AHSAA Medical Advisory Board member and Director of Sports Medicine at Children's of Alabama. "They shouldn't allow their kids to be coached without the training for the parents who are the coaches. This training course will help us educate coaches to improve safety and reduce risk for all children in terms of their sports participation."

Everyone from Alabama's Nick Saban to Auburn's Bruce Pearl to UAB's Bill Clark, the CoachSafely Foundation vice president, to Dr. James Andrews, the world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who serves as medical director for the CoachSafely Foundation, has supported this effort. Public service announcements on the subject, featuring prominent sports figures, will be airing soon throughout the state.

Drew Ferguson, Natalie Norman and Bill Clark.

Thanks to a joint venture between the CoachSafely Foundation and the Alabama Recreation and Parks Foundation, more than 10,000 youth coaches in Alabama have received the training to date. Natalie Norman, executive director of the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association, said the goal is to reach the entire population of youth coaches in this state, which numbers about 60,000.

"When it first came up with the coaches," Norman said, "we had a little pushback: 'Well, you know, I'm certified in this and I've got this (training) and why do we need to go through something else?' As soon as it sinks in that this is not about them, primarily, it's about the kids, about making the environment for the kids as safe as we possibly can, as soon

as they realize that, a lightbulb goes off and they say, 'OK. What do we need to do?' "

The entire Coach Safely effort, following in the footsteps of the AHSAA's leadership regarding player safety, is a shining example of the state of Alabama taking the lead on an important national issue in a positive way.

At the high school level, "you don't just walk out there and become a coach," said Alvin Briggs, the AHSAA's associate executive director.

You have to be trained. You have to be certified. You have to be prepared.

In Alabama, that's now the law for youth coaches, too. Every parent needs to know that fact, and every parent needs to ask this question: Is my child's coach a Coach Safely coach?

They should be because, as we learned again in a dramatic way earlier this month, trained coaches save lives.



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