Go for Gold Children’s Hospital, State of Tennessee team up for youth sports safety

Alex Diamond, DO, MPH, director of the Program for Injury Prevention in Youth Sports (PIPYS) and associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Pediatrics, wants every Tennessee youth sports league (community and school-based) to have the resources needed to improve and follow state-recommended safety protocols that keep young athletes safe.

Diamond, a national advocate for youth sports safety, co-founded Safe Stars, a collaboration between the Tennessee Department of Health and PIPYS that launched May 2018. As the nation’s first statewide safety rating system for all types of sports leagues, it’s another example of how Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt experts are expanding the care of patients beyond the walls of the hospital.

“When it comes to youth sports, there is no single governing authority that says how health and safety should be managed,” said Diamond. “We want to take things we know work, things that are proven through research or are current best practice and deliver those directly to the youth leagues to implement. Although there is more structure in place for school-based sports, getting them the same information and strategies is critical as well.”

Diamond is thrilled to see communities take ownership and play a strong role in making a difference.

“This is really a game changer in the realm of youth sports. It is setting the standard for how we think about addressing safety at the youth sports level and makes Tennessee a leader in providing a safe, healthy and happy experience for all of our young people participating in a sporting activity.”

Safe Stars’ goal is to provide resources and opportunities for every youth sports league to enhance their safety standards. The criteria for achieving recognition as a Safe Stars league has been developed by a committee of health professionals dedicated to reducing sports-related injuries among youth. 

Safe Stars awards bronze, silver and gold star safety ratings to leagues that meet certain criteria through an application process. There are more than 30 gold star programs across the state. The free program focuses on preventing death and disability, highlighting the importance of heart safety and concussion education, injury prevention and appropriate sportsmanship for parents, children and coaches. Topics also include opioid prevention and mental health issues.

The bronze designation covers the most important safety protocols: emergency action plan, background checks on all coaches, constant presence of a CPR/AED certified coach, severe weather policy, anaphylaxis emergency plan and coaches being trained to recognize and manage concussion and sudden cardiac arrest incidents. Leagues that meet two more safety protocols get a silver rating. Those that achieve four more are awarded a gold rating. The Star rating remains in effect for three years, after which a league must re-apply.

More than 40 Tennessee-affiliated organizations have signed on to endorse the program, including statewide medical societies, professional sport teams, colleges and universities and government agencies.

“There are lots of discussions about how to expand our reach, not only across the state, but what are the opportunities to take this to the national level?,” Diamond said.

“I try to be realistic because change takes time. But I will always keep pushing because it’s important for our families, and communities, and our young athletes are seeing the benefit.” 

– by Jessica Pasley

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