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EAST LANSING, Mich. – April 9 – Michigan High School Athletic Association Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts offers his view on a wide array of school sports issues every Tuesday and Friday through his From The Director blog on the MHSAA Website. During February and March, he wrote a series of entries about the upcoming actions the Association was taking on the health and safety front, and opined about related happenings on the topic and their effect on the games.
Here is a compilation of those blog entries:
Four Thrusts For Four Years
February 12, 2013
“Four thrusts for four years.” That’s the phrase we’re using to keep us focused and, we hope, effective in addressing some of the most pressing health and safety issues of school sports. The four emphases are:
• Require more initial and ongoing sports safety training for more coaches.
• Implement heat and humidity management policies at all schools for all sports.
• Revise practice policies generally, but especially for early in the fall season.
• Modify game rules to reduce the frequency of the most dangerous play situations, and to reduce head trauma.
Each of these thrusts will be briefly addressed in my next four postings, and we will use the breadth and depth of our constituency to search for best practices and earn their approval throughout our rank and file. There will be many requests for the MHSAA to do other health and safety related things; but we believe if we keep the focus on these four thrusts for four years, we can do the most good most quickly for the most students.
Raising Expectations for Coaches Preparedness
February 15, 2013
Over the next four years we will be exploring for and implementing what we hope are both effective and practical means of raising expectations for coaches preparedness. Three avenues are on our map at this time:
First, it is proposed that by school year 2014-15, all MHSAA member high schools will be required to certify that all assistant and subvarsity coaches at the high school level complete the same online rules meeting (with health and safety component) that is required of head coaches or they must complete one of the free online sports safety courses posted on or linked to MHSAA.com.
Second, it is proposed that by 2015-16, MHSAA member high schools will be required to certify that all of their varsity head coaches have a valid CPR certification prior to their second year of coaching at any MHSAA member school.
Third, it is proposed that by 2016-17, all varsity head coaches of MHSAA member high school teams have completed either Level 1 or Level 2 of the MHSAA Coaches Advancement Program prior to their third year of coaching at any MHSAA member high school. The MHSAA is preparing to subsidize some of the course cost for every coach who completes Level 1 or 2.
Together, these changes will move Michigan from one of the states of fewest coaching requirements to a position consistent with the “best practices” for minimizing risk in school sports and providing students a healthy experience.
The MHSAA Representative Council has not yet scheduled a vote on these proposals.
Raising Expectations for Managing Heat and Humidity
February 19, 2013
The MHSAA Representative Council is scheduled to vote on March 22, 2013, to approve a “Model Policy for Managing Heat and Humidity” that would appear in the 2013-14 MHSAA Handbook.
The policy, patterned after a mandatory policy of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, requires that temperature and humidity readings be taken at the site of activities 30 minutes before the start of the practice or competition and again 60 minutes after the start of that activity. The readings must be recorded in writing and kept in the files of school administration. Inexpensive devices may be used that automatically calculate the “heat index.”
If the heat index is below 95 degrees, only normal precautions are required. However, readings of 95 to 99 degrees and then 100 to 104 degrees require additional precautions; and all activity must be postponed or suspended if the heat index climbs above 104 degrees.
When the air temperature is below 80 degrees, there is no combination of heat and humidity that will result in need to curtail activity.
This is being proposed as a model policy for 2013-14. The MHSAA will monitor school districts’ acceptance of this policy or adoption of similar policies before considering a mandate of this or similar policies.
The model policy will be mandatory for MHSAA tournaments.
(NOTE – The Representative Council approved the heat management policy at its March 22 meeting. The complete release about that meeting can be viewed by clicking here.)
Double Win Practice Policies
February 22, 2013
The MHSAA’s third health and safety thrust for the next four years focuses on practice rules, especially early in the fall season.
Here we will be especially interested in finding “double wins,” that is, policies that simultaneously enhance acclimatization and reduce head contact.
In football, for example, this could mean increasing the number of days without protective pads before the first practice in full pads. Michigan requires three days, but there’s a trend toward four or five days in other states.
Football might also limit any day to a single practice in pads, following the lead of colleges and a growing number of state high school associations that are restricting two-a-day practices in pads on the same day or on consecutive days.
Both of these changes could make acclimatization more gradual and healthy, and reduce the occurrences for contact to the head: two priorities as practice policies are reviewed and revised.
The MHSAA’s sport committees, sometimes with their work augmented by that of special task forces, are being charged with these responsibilities.
(NOTE – The second meeting of the Football Task Force will take place in the MHSAA Offices on April 16)
February 26, 2013
The MHSAA’s fourth health and safety thrust for the next four years focuses on competition rules. It intends to locate the most dangerous plays in each sport and to try to reduce their frequency. For example:
• We know that kickoff returns, punt returns and interception returns – plays in the open field with a change in direction – are the most dangerous football game situations.
• We know that heading the ball in soccer is injurious, especially to younger athletes, and especially to females.
• We know that checking from behind is a cause of serious injury in ice hockey.
• We wonder if protective headgear has a place in soccer, or if protective head and face protection has a future role in softball.
• We know that ACL injuries in female basketball players and volleyball players is near epidemic and wonder if there is equipment or conditioning that can be mandated or recommended to save our players from what are serious and sometimes career-ending injuries.
We can make changes ourselves – through MHSAA sport committees – for the subvarsity level, but our committees can only make recommendations to national rules committees for varsity level play. Over the next four years, we will be asking our sport committees to give more time to the most dangerous plays in their sport – identifying what they are and proposing how to reduce that danger.
We’ve Got This Right
March 1, 2013
This year's Super Bowl was an occasion for an unusual amount of commentary on the state of football safety, especially concussions.
One group called on state high school associations and football coaches associations to eliminate contact outside the defined interscholastic season. That would mean spring football practice, and during summer leagues and camps, and at all-star games.
Michigan is one of a large majority of states where schools do not allow spring football practice. Michigan is one of a minority of states where schools do not allow contact at summer camps, for which we are often criticized by out-of-state camp promoters. And Michigan is one of a smaller minority of states where schools prohibit students, coaches, officials and administrators from being involved in all-star games involving undergraduates.
While we are well ahead of the curve on out-of-season contact policies, we are in the mainstream of state high school associations studying what the appropriate limits should be on contact during early season football practice and throughout the remainder of the season. We have a task force that appears headed toward recommending that the Representative Council prescribe only one contact session per day during early season practice and only two contact practices per week after games begin.
There will be other ideas percolating and then simmering with these before any are proposed to the MHSAA Football Committee and Representative Council.
The Boomerang Effect
March 5, 2013
The image of football on all levels, and the future of football at the youth level, are both worse off today as a result of the NFL’s recent years’ public relations and political campaigns.
The constant barrage of negative publicity about youth football as the NFL advanced its agenda to pass concussion legislation in all 50 states has, to levels not seen before, kicked off the concerns of moms and dads and the media nationwide. In state after state, kids with concussions have been paraded before state legislators, in the company of NFL staff. The NFL has administered a self-inflicted wound, shot itself in the foot, and made FOOTBALL the face of America’s youth sports concussion problem. How the NFL brain trust ever thought this would promote the game of football in America is a wonder.
School-based football today has no greater obstacle to promoting a safe game than the NFL. No brand of football captures the game’s brutal aspects for video more than the NFL. No brand of football celebrates it more. No brand of football CAPITALIZES on it more – so much so that the NFL can donate several million dollars to youth football to buff its “caring” conscience, when in fact it’s a miniscule portion of its multi-billion-dollar business.
Moreover, one of the NFL’s favorite groups for its self-promoted “philanthropy” is USA Football, which promotes itself as the national governing body for amateur football in America. One of USA Football’s initiatives is an international championship for high school players, which of course means more hitting out of season for these players. The very activity the experts are telling us to reduce – out-of-season contact – is being promoted by this NFL underwritten organization! And WE get criticized as being against the promotion of football in America when we don’t go along with this backward thinking?
March 8, 2013
Advocating at the national level for unachievable ideals not only diminishes the importance of those achieving reasonable accomplishments at the grassroots level, it also threatens the future of organized sports for the masses; and few organizations in a position to know better are doing as much to create these unintended consequences as the National Athletic Trainers Association.
It is a NATA-driven “Youth Sports Safety Alliance” that has developed a six-page manifesto for youth sports, including NATA’s “Secondary School Student Athletes’ Bill of Rights” which is mostly beyond the means of youth sports sponsors, and has marched to Capitol Hill to urge the federal legislature’s action to pursue those goals, among which is the conveniently unstated objective of advancing job opportunities and security for athletic trainers themselves.
MHSAA surveys indicate that, conservatively, fewer than 20 percent of Michigan high schools and junior high/middle schools have a full-time certified athletic trainer on staff. In fact, only a minority of schools think such a full-time position is necessary, given other cheaper options available to them in the form of contracted services of medical groups and the volunteered services of many other medical professionals. An even smaller minority has the means to pay for a full-time certified athletic trainer, given all the cuts in state aid to schools; and many schools – urban, suburban, rural and remote – wonder where in their communities they would find a certified athletic trainer if such were mandated everywhere.
NATA’s earlier recommendations in the extreme for acclimatization of players at the start of the football season have already resulted in a state law in Maryland that football coaches there criticize for leading to a less safe sport now that they have less time to teach technique and prepare players for first-game contact. In theory, NATA’s notions are nice ideas; but in practice, they are less safe for the participants. And anything that is less safe for the participants not only endangers today’s players, it also jeopardizes the future of the game. Which, by the way, does nothing to enhance employment opportunities for trainers.
On The Hook
March 12, 2013
The over-arching theme of interscholastic athletic administration today is the health and safety of our student participants. It’s always our most important concern but now, by both self-serving and serious advocates, it’s being made a political football – actually more like a soccer ball being kicked back and forth and back again, resulting in about as much chance of scoring any positive goals as a World Cup soccer game will have in scoring any goals at all.
We are daily being distracted, and taken off our tasks, by symbolic more than substantive proposals to require this, that or the other thing to protect children from the risk of injury – regardless of grassroots input and without regard to grassroots resources. Zealous advocates for child safety wish to protect children from any risk of physical exertion, while in the next breath they complain of youth inactivity and obesity. And those who are trying to increase participation AND the quality of that experience – that’s us – become the targets of criticism. Often, those who have never done anything, blame those who have done a lot, for not doing enough.
Our frustration is flowing from the health and safety “idea du jour” to which we must respond, knowing that every time we fail to gush over some legislator’s or advocate’s notion, we invite the characterization that we are uncaring, lazy or arrogant, or all of the above. What we are doing is protecting schools from ubiquitous, onerous mandates which no one else in the school community is taking notice of because, appropriately, they are focused on the impossible task of providing an ever-expanding list of required services to an ever-increasing percentage of school-aged children with an ever-increasing list of problems, with the expectation that all of them will perform at ever-improving levels of achievement.
But even with all these disclaimers, I can’t let us off the hook. There are some things we can do and must do to better meet our highest calling in educational athletics which, if we’ve lost sight of it in the confusing clutter of challenges, is not only to do no harm physically to students but also to help instill in them healthy habits for the rest of their lives. Consistent with this high calling, we have obligations to do some critically important things – sometimes in spite of outside interference and sometimes beyond that interference – and do so without delay. It is about those things that I have been commenting most these past few months, and will continue to address.