By Ken Reed

Too many college and high school athletes have collapsed and died in the last decade due to overzealous coaches and trainers who use over-the-top conditioning drills in an effort to “toughen up” the athletes under their direction.

These workout sessions are lightly regulated at best and coaches “just run willy-nilly” trying to make men out of boys,” said athletic trainer Douglas Casa. “A lot of them are not focused on health and safety issues.”

Conditioning sessions typically include running sprints, lifting weights, and endurance exercises, according to Associated Press medical writer Lindsey Tanner.

Due to the deaths caused by excessive conditioning, and high-profile cases like the 13 University of Iowa football players who were hospitalized last year due to a muscle-damaging condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis, which is caused by intense exertion, new workout guidelines have been recently established by a coalition of medical and training groups, including the American College of Sports Medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the National Athletic Trainers Association, and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.

The new guidelines emphasize that conditioning workouts should be phased in rather than starting at maximum intensity on the first day. They also stress that exercise should not be used as punishment and that conditioning coaches should be trained in health and safety issues, as well as certified in first aid, resuscitation and heart defibrillation. The guidelines target college coaches and trainers, as well as high school and youth sports coaches and trainers.

The guidelines challenge “the old athletic mentality that if a little bit is good, a lot must be better,” said Jim Thornton, president of the trainers’ association.

Working athletes longer and harder “is not exercising smart,” said Dr. Jolie Holschen, a Chicago emergency medicine and sports medicine specialist, and co-author of the new guidelines.

It’s past time for coaches out of the “drive them into the ground” Vince Lombardi mode to get their egos out of the way and focus on the health and safety of the athletes they’re leading.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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