Playing it safe!

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Safety in sports cannot be allowed to take a back seat in any school. What is it then, that a school can do to ensure the safety of its students while they are transported into the parallel realm of sports, where all that seems to matter is shooting into that basket or kicking into that goal? Here’s EduSports’ take on safety in sports

Back in the day, as school-bound students with bags twice our size strapped to our drooping backs and heavy bottles swinging from our necks, our gravest worry seemed to be whether or not we shall be able to make it in time to catch that excruciatingly early school bus. The conventional ones of us would be stressed about the examinations that always seemed to be peeping just around the corner, while the more versatile of the lot would be excitedly jittery about the big match in the PE period. The one thing farthest from our minds, however, would be the possibility of being “unsafe” or physically or mentally endangered, in any sense of the word. For the school authorities, however, student safety is undoubtedly a top priority – a persistent cause for concern that resonates loud and clear even in their most basic agenda. This is the precise reason for every safety net that a school has, be it efficient disaster management plans, reliable security agencies, secure gated complexes, a network of trustworthy teachers or even expert student counselling facilities. With students spending over half of their waking hours in school, it becomes an undebatable reality that the school is their guardian and protector for the better part of every day. Since safety gains precedence over so much else, it is abundantly clear that safety in sports cannot be allowed to take a back seat in any school.

It should not come across as surprising that safety while playing sports is a matter which warrants its due consideration. Sports are, after all, as adventurous as they are liberating. With impatient players running wildly at their fastest, heavy balls being recklessly flung around, swinging racquets freely cutting through the air and competitive egos all leaning towards a win, a playground can attract injuries quicker than a flame attracts moths. Despite the callous nature of sports, however, they are an absolute necessity for students – not just to wind down after hours of crouching over books but also to maintain good physical health and ultimately, shape their individual personality.

At the end of the day, all work and no play does make Jack a dull boy.

What is it then, that a school can do to ensure the safety of its students while they are transported into the parallel realm of sports, where all that seems to matter is shooting into that basket or kicking into that goal?

A healthy and safe ecosystem for students to play, compete and grow in is paramount. This is essentially why when a school takes responsibility of the holistic physical education of its students, it should aim to provide the best services, not only in terms of the quality of the curriculum but also with regards to promoting a safe play environment. In our experience with over 650 schools across the country over 8 years we have been able to narrow down to certain critical best practices while planning the safety levels in a school physical education program. We have also learnt a lot about the actual implementation of these safety protocols. The key aspects of these learnings have been described as follows:

Physical aspects of safety in sports:

a) Injury prevention – The mantra of “prevention is better than cure” should be diligently followed and all relevant student medical information should be disclosed to the physical education trainers before training begins.

b) Physical strength – The aim should be to improve the physical strength and endurance of the students and make them stronger in a slow, steadfast and healthy manner.

c) Conducting the Physical Education class:

  • Trained teachers – Schools should begin by hiring the most suitable trainers to train and mentor their students – certified instructors with good communication and technical skills and passion to play as well as mentor.
  • Safe playground–There is a functional safety aspect and then a sports-specific safety aspect. E.g. there is adequate space beyond the boundaries of a basketball court for the players to run into. There should be a right child-space ratio so that all children have enough space as they play.
  • Warm-up exercises– Students should be given extensive warmup exercises to loosen up their muscles before playing, to avoid sprains, twists, cramps and muscle tears and trainers should avoid testing new activities on the students for which they have not received formal training.
  • Age-appropriate training– The lesson plans and activities should be designed age-appropriate and skill/fitness appropriate. This requires PE teachers and coaches who are trained in a structured program that accounts for the variations in children’s interests, skills & fitness while delivering the program. A child in nursery, to quote an example, could be given a foam paddle to strike a plastic ball (over a cricket bat and leather ball) and could be taught to throw using an underarm swing, since his shoulder muscles have not yet developed extensively at such a tender age.
  • Physical space – Students should also be given clear demarcations of their personal as well as general space to avoid injury on account of over-crowding or poor team formations.
  • Hydration– Schools and trainers should ensure that the students are well-hydrated during the physical education class and that there is easily accessible water and first-aid nearby. Schools should also have well-trained doctors or nurses on-call to ensure the right kind of medication in an emergency.
  • Trainers’ code of conduct – Trainers should follow the ideal code of conduct while mentoring students of all age-groups. They should never push a student beyond the latter’s physical or emotional capacity or indulge in the use of any form of verbal or physical abuse with students, irrespective of the situation. At any point during the training, the trainer should not leave a student behind alone, under any circumstances whatsoever. At the same time, he should avoid taking the student away from the collective group to address him/ her individually, especially behind closed doors.
  • Lady teachers/helpers– Schools should ensure the presence of a lady teacher/ trainer/assistant to ensure the utmost comfort of female students and their parents, especially to administer first-aid in case of any emergency.

d) Dealing with injury/ accident – Needless to say, in spite of all the right precautions and measures being taken, accidents are an unfortunate yet inevitable reality in something as physical as sports. Trainers should be well-equipped, with the right knowledge and facilities, to deal with such incidents efficiently, for which the following measures need to be taken:

  • First-aid– Teachers and sports instructors should be trained to provide immediate first-aid to an injured child after which they must take him/ her to the nearest doctor/ nurse with no delay. Trainers should not be authorized to provide students with any ingestible medicines such as tablets, injections or syrups in the absence of a trusted medical practitioner.
  • Disclosure- Honesty is always the best policy and schools should ensure that their sports instructors are unfailingly upfront and truthful in reporting any accidents to the school authorities and parents at the earliest, right after ensuring the immediate safety of the student.

Psychological aspects of safety in sports:

a) Bullying/ Harassment– It is of the utmost importance that NO student is ever exposed to any sort of bullying or harassment, whether at the hands of his fellow schoolmates or his trainers. The PE teacher should observe and control such behavior. In fact, the students who are better at a particular sport or activity should be encouraged to help the slightly weaker ones.

b) Inclusion– The entire structure should ensure complete inclusion of all students and should create an atmosphere in which they can thrive, no matter their strengths or weaknesses. There should be adequate encouragement for all students, especially the ones who may be slower at learning.

The safety measures in sports, like most safety measures, seem trivial but the absence of safety measures can lead to accidents. Regular audits of these measures are recommended to ensure that at no point in time does the safety of students take a back seat. Also, ongoing reviews of these safety requirements should be conducted to identify and stay updated with any existing gaps in these protocols, thereby ensuring that correctional action can be taken at the earliest. One of the core values of any school is the trust that a student and his parents place in it – the slightest relaxation of safety guidelines would imply a breach of this value system. Safe and healthy physical education forms the very essence of the ideal curriculum and schools must take the utmost care in ensuring that this essence is embedded not only in their trainers’ minds, but reverberates throughout the entirety of the institution. The investment of time, energy and management attention to safety in sports will help all stakeholders i.e. parents and school leaders to encourage children to stay healthy & fit through sports. And kids will pursue sports for life!

EduSports is India’s No. 1 sports education organization that believes in developing a healthier and fitter generation. Spread across 250+ locations in India, EduSports currently works with 650+ schools and engages over 5,00,000 children in an inclusive and positive sporting experience. The objective of EduSports program remains resolute, which is to offer an opportunity outside the class to improve fitness, build leadership and social skills and most importantly to have fun through sports.