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Building an Emergency Action Plan for Athletes

June 18, 2020

Two football players carry injured teammate across a field.

Having an emergency action plan (EAP) for athletes can be the difference between life and death. Consider the protocol in the event of sudden cardiac arrest: An on-site medical team begins CPR within the first minute, defibrillation occurs within two minutes, and EMS paramedics arrive to transport the athlete to an advanced life support facility within five minutes.

Such efficient care—essential to live-saving efforts—cannot happen without careful planning. An emergency action plan for athletes requires coordination among sports leadership, health support personnel, local emergency medical services, and coaches. Sports management professionals can provide the necessary coordination and planning if they have the proper training.


What Is an Emergency Action Plan?

Emergency action plans provide a systematic approach to addressing medical, environmental, and security emergencies. In the athletic arena, EAPs are designed to guide people to respond quickly to sports-related injuries and medical conditions that are serious or life-threatening. Emergency action plans help ensure that sports organizations are prepared for serious medical events by putting critical training, equipment, and protocols in place before they are needed. Examples of conditions and injuries covered in athletic EAPs include:

  • Allergic reactions and asthma. In the event of a severe reaction to an allergen or asthma attack, sports medicine and athletic training staff members can administer epinephrine auto-injector pens (EpiPens), oxygen treatment, and other interventions.
  • Cardiac arrest. Schools and sports organizations can prepare for cardiac emergencies by training staff in CPR and equipping facilities with automatic external defibrillators (AEDs).
  • Head and spinal injuries. Coaches and medical staff trained to recognize concussions symptoms can immediately remove athletes from play. Following the proper protocol for moving athletes with spinal injuries and procedures for monitoring athletes' breathing and circulation is critical for ensuring the best medical outcome.
  • Heat-related issues. Coaches who are trained in proper hydration can help their athletes avoid heat-related injury, and cold-water immersion techniques can effectively treat life-threatening exertional heat illness.

The Importance of Emergency Action Plans for Athletes

Because athletes often push themselves to their physical limits, they face higher risks of serious injury. For example, sudden cardiac arrest is more common in athletes than in non-athletes because of the increased risk associated with strenuous exercise, according to Advocates for Injured Athletes, a nonprofit that supports athletic trainers and student-athletes.

Data gathered about sports-related injuries in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the importance of emergency action plans for athletes:

  • Approximately 2.7 million people ages 5 to 24 visit the emergency room for sports-related injuries annually.
  • The CDC estimates 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions occur in sports and recreational activities annually. Each year, more than 170,000 kids and teens receive treatment in emergency rooms for sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest, which affects athletes disproportionately, kills 2,000 patients under age 25 annually.

How to Build an Emergency Action Plan for Athletes

To build an emergency action plan that effectively limits risk and promotes health and safety, sports management professionals consider the following factors:

  • Accessibility. EAPs should be well documented and easy to access. Plans that are written clearly, distributed widely, and posted near phones in all facilities can help prevent delays in emergency situations when every second counts.
  • Specificity. Plans should be tailored to an organization’s specific venue, resources, and personnel. They should include, for example, maps of the fields and access points for emergency vehicles, as well as the location and inventory of medical equipment such as defibrillators.
  • Responsibilities. EAPs assign roles and designate a chain of command. Critical aspects include not only medical personnel and procedures but also processes for initiating local emergency services; communicating with coaches, athletes, and family members; and documenting catastrophic injuries.
  • Timeliness. It is important to keep plans up to date with current standards of prehospital emergency care for athletic injuries. Plans should be reviewed by local emergency services and coordinated with on-site medical personnel, organizational leaders, and safety officials.

Emergency action plans should also be practiced. Drills designed to simulate a medical emergency help sports leadership to refine processes and identify areas for improvement.


Preparing for a Career in Sports Management

Sports fans typically focus on players and coaches when they think about their favorite teams, but success in athletics requires a larger group that includes professionals with managerial and business skills. LSU Online’s Master of Science in Kinesiology with a specialization in Sport Management combines sports theory with practice, helping students become experts in their fields. Whether managing operations for a sports team or opening an athletics-related business or practice clinic, graduates are equipped with the economic, social, and legal knowledge necessary to succeed. Learn more about how LSU Online prepares students for a wide variety of careers in sports.


Recommended Readings

What Can You Do with a Sports Management Degree?

How to Become a Sports Marketing Manager

Career Options in Sports: Sport Management vs. Sport Marketing


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