Sports Camp Safety
Instruction and Supervision
Inadequate supervision is the number one cause of serious injuries and lawsuits in the sports camp setting. Supervision refers to both adults overseeing individual camper ofra group of campers as well as the camp management structure put in place by the owners, directors, and officers.
Sports instruction includes not just sport specific technique, but also making sure that all safety rules and their reason are adequately explained and enforced.
Probably the most important element of any sports camp is the coaching staff. It’s not enough for your child’s coach to be an accomplished athlete. Camp coaches should, at a minimum, be CPR and first aid certified. They should also be trained to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion and concussion, and know what steps to take in the event of an occurrence. It’s also important to know if your child’s coach has experience working with kids your child’s age because there’s a huge difference between coaching elementary age youngsters and high school athletes.
Equipment safety is another factor in ensuring a good camp experience. From batting helmets to tennis racquets to rope ladders, they all need maintained properly. The camp should have an equipment maintenance safety check and maintenance plan in place.
Youth sports camps offer participants abundant exercise and opportunities for improving and learning new skills. They’re also a way for young athletes to get ready for school or recreation league tryouts and competitions. Basic safety precautions coaches and parents should review with their athletes are:
- Any protective gear worn in a game should also be worn in practice.
- Protective gear should be adjusted to fit properly.
- Athletes should not “play through” an injury. Requesting immediate help from a coach or trainer is important.
- Athletes should be given frequent breaks for rest and rehydration.
- Sports rules are based on sportsmanship AND safety. Camp coaches and trainers should know and enforce the safety rules.
It's important to remember that to prevent injuries athletes must get fit for their sport rather than use the sport to get fit. Camp injuries are bound to occur, but many are attributed to fatigue and poor conditioning. Parents and coaches should be aware of the most common risks to athletes participating in sports camps and how to prevent them:
Minor discomfort, such as stiff or sore muscles, is normal when athletes haven’t played as often or intensely prior to camp activities. Overuse injuries are preventable, but if an injury resulting from overuse occurs, activity should be modified enough to allow the body to heal. The signs of overuse or precursors to overuse to watch for are:
- pain at the beginning of activity, discomfort throughout practice, and soreness after practice;
- limping during practice and games;
- complaints of pain in the morning and throughout the day.
Recovery from overuse can sometimes take time and be difficult to achieve. Early recognition and treatment are crucial to getting the player back on the field. Pain lasting more than five days, may be a sign of a more serious injury. In such cases, a medical professional should be consulted.
Stretching prior to practice, drills and games is the most effective way of preventing injury. Likewise, stretching after sports activity acts as a cool down and helps the body prepare for the next bout of exercise.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the most serious forms of heat stress. Heat exhaustion is when the body cannot control temperature because too much water and salt are lost from the body through excessive sweating. Heat stroke is when the body temperature rises to dangerous levels, and can result in death. Staff should be trained in heat stress response. The following precautions are your ticket to easily preventing heat stress:
- Schedule more strenuous activity in the morning and the evening, and down time and water activities in the middle of the day when the temperatures are highest.
- Gradually increase physical activity over several days as it may take several days to get used to hot weather.
- Schedule rest and water breaks in the shade. Erect temporary shade canopies if necessary. Keep supplies of cool water available in activity areas.
- Campers and staff should be aware of heat stress symptoms and encouraged to drink regularly.
- Cold foods should be served on hot days.
- Be aware of daily weather conditions, adjusting activities according to heat advisories
- Participants with chronic medical or mental conditions or obesity may be at higher risk for heat stress. Camp medical staff should evaluate medical screening forms to determine if participants need special monitoring or modification of activities.
Drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in water such as fruits and vegetables is the best prevention against dehydration. When exercising, don't let thirst be your guide as to whether your body is maintaining enough fluids. Additional water in hot or humid weather is necessary to help lower body temperature and replace fluids lost through sweating.
It's best to begin hydrating the day before strenuous exercise. Before exercising, drink 1 to 3 cups of water. Replenish fluids at regular intervals and continue drinking water or other fluids after you're finished. A good sign that the body is well-hydrated is a frequent production of highly diluted and clear urine. However, drinking too much water can cause bloating and discomfort, and even lead to hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, a result of taking in more fluids than are released through sweating.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Sleepiness or tiredness
- Decreased urine output
- Dry skin
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Other camp-related risks
Sex abuse and molestation
Dealing with sexual predators should be the last thing on any parent’s mind when sending a child to day or overnight camp . Sadly, it’s something about which every parent has to be concerned. Camp administrators are responsible for doing everything in their power to protect campers, but parents also must be aware of what abuse/molestation risk management program the camp has in place. We provide a Child Abuse and Molestation Protection Program, and Child Abuse and Molestation Handout for Parents.
There are no guaranteed safeguards against sexual predators. However, coaches, parents and athletes should be aware of the typical behaviors associated with sexual molesters:
- Choosing a vulnerable child lacking self-confidence or self-esteem or who receives little attention from parents and other adults.
- Showing undue interest in a child or isolating him/her from the other campers.
- Desensitizing the child to touch such as by tickling, patting, stroking, or wrestling.
- Urging the child to keep secrets.
- Giving gifts and/or granting special privileges
- Discussing adult matters
- Sexual jokes, showing pornography, asking sexual questions
- Hugging, kissing, physical contact
Use of 15-passenger vans
There has been much debate over the use of 15-passenger vans due to the documented risk of rollovers and the potential for catastrophic liability as a result of serious injuries or deaths to multiple passengers. We urge you to read our article detailing the issues with 12 to 15-passenger vans.
Many camps offer athletes opportunities to swim in pools, lakes and other bodies of water during cool down times and after scheduled activities. What many people don't know is that drowning is the second highest cause of accidental death in children under the age of 15, many of whom were within 25 yards of an adult.
Vigilance is critical when dealing with children in the water. Simple precautions can be taken to lessen the risk of drowning.
- Participation requires passing a swim test.
- Instill in campers “the buddy system” so they're accountable for each other.
- Have at least one CPR-trained adult in attendance.
- Adults should not be involved in any distracting activity (such as reading, ortalking on phone)
- A certified lifeguard should be on duty.
Further information on pool safety is available on the American Red Cross website.