Even though the spring athletic seasons are currently suspended and may be terminated this year, Athletic Trainers (ATs) should prepare for the upcoming spring football season. Due to the COVID-19 crisis there is a chance spring football may be changed or even canceled, but we must be ready. The South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) permits each school to participate in 20 days of football practice during the month of May. A maximum of ten days can be in full pads (full contact practices). The first three practices (days) in May must be in in helmets only with no contact. This is different than at the start of the fall season in August when the first two (days) practices are limited to helmets and the following two practices (days) are restricted to “shells” (helmet, shoulder pads and shorts).
The areas ATs should prepare for Athletic Training Room logistics, players’ equipment and players’ readiness. ATs should inventory supplies and order what will be needed in May. ATs should consider ordering extra disposable cups for water breaks instead of the traditional community water bottles. These bottles are a sure thing for spreading a virus to the whole team. Also, it is wise to check the balance of the athletic training budget even if no supplies are needed for May. If money is available, it should be used to purchase supplies and equipment for future seasons. Also, inspect the ice machine, cold immersion tubs, and outside water sources/hoses. You do not want to wait until the first practice to find out you have a problem like a leaky tub or water hose. All coolers should be cleaned again after being in storage for months.
The next area to prepare for is the players’ equipment. Both coaches and ATs should be involved with this. At most schools, helmets are sent to the recondition companies during the winter for inspection, reconditioning and recertification. Check that all helmets are currently certified and in good condition. Also, all shoulder pads shoulder be checked for breaks, cracks, rotting straps and mold. All other gear should be cleaned and disinfected before being issued to the players.
Lastly, ATs should check on the physical readiness of the players. Review pre-season physical examinations and do appropriate follow up when needed. Make sure the athletes take appropriate care of any known injuries. ATs do not want to surprise a coach with a long list of injured players on the day of the first practice. Some schools have winter football conditioning and some do not. For those without a winter conditioning program, it is a good idea to encourage players to condition during the winter months. This will reduce the risk of injury during May and will make the AT job a little easier.
Good luck this May, and I hope the COVID-19 crisis resolves by then.