by Shannon David, PhD, ATC, LAT

One of the best preventative measures that can be taken to ensure athlete safety is to be prepared. Developing a well thought out emergency action plan is a critical component to the survival of both athletes and spectators. The purpose of an emergency action plan is to maintain cardiovascular function (Prentice, 2014). In addition, the staff needs to consider the safest method of removing the athlete from the field of play, as well as, the urgency of which the patient is referred (Starkey, 2010). Each of these tasks can be accomplished efficiently when everyone involved knows their role and responsibilities when emergency strikes.

Any facility that hosts events or practices to athletes should have a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP) prepared. Here are a few tips for key points that should be included in your Emergency Action Plan. The first tip is to keep in mind is communication. Establish an effective mode to contact EMS. If the cheerleaders are at a Friday night football game, chances are the EMS will be on site but if they are not what phone will be used to contact them? In a world full of technology, most will choose to use a cell phone. It is important to make sure that the cell phone has service in that area and that it is fully charged. It is never a bad idea to have backup or a landline in case. It is not uncommon for landlines to have need a code to call out, so be sure you know in advance if you need to press “9” then the phone number for example. The next big question is, “Who is going to call 911?”

Each person involved should immediately know their role when the EAP is implemented. In an ideal situation the person to care for the cheerleader should be an Athletic Trainer or Physician but it is not uncommon for a coach to be the first person on the scene. It is extremely important for every person involved to be CPR/AED certified. A specific person, perhaps a head coach, needs to be designated to call 911. This person needs to be at all practices. Another person, usually an assistant coach, will be needed to clear the area of other teammates or spectators. While the main person is evaluating the patient, it is important for a separate person to get the necessary equipment. Other people involved in this process include athletic directors, team managers, facilities staff, etc.

The most important piece of equipment that needs to be brought to the scene is an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). It has been show that if an AED is used within there is a better survival rate (Rothmier, 2009). A CPR pocket mask should also be easily accessible for anyone certified. Other pieces of equipment that may be useful in an emergency situation are scissors, towels, an extra set of AED pads, personal protective equipment (i.e., gloves), etc. Knowing exactly where this equipment can be found can save valuable time during an emergency situation.

After all of the planning, it still will not work unless everyone on the team practices. So, Practice, Practice, Practice! Generally a cheerleading Emergency Action Plan should be practiced once a year or anytime new members of the team are added. It also a great idea to include your local EMS because chances are they will be there too and everyone should work together to provide the most efficient care.

Here are a few additional resources that to help:

  1. Starkey C, Brown S, Ryan J. Examination of Orthopedic and Athletic Injuries. Philadelphia, PA: FA Davis: 2010.
  2. Prentice W. Principles of Athletic Training: A Competency Based Approach, New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2014.
  3. Anderson JC, Courson RW, Douglas MK, McLoda TA. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Emergency Planning in Athletics. Journ Athl Train. 2002;37(1):99-104
  4. Rothmeir, J. The role of the Automated External Defibrillators in Sports. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2009;1(1):16-20.

Dr. Shannon David is an Assistant Professor in the Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science Department at North Dakota State University. She received her doctorate in Research and Evaluation from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in 2013. She earned her Master’s Degree from Ohio University and Bachelors from Heidelberg University (formerly Heidelberg College). Shannon has worked for Varsity for the last four years as Camp Administration. She also was the Assistant Cheerleading Coach at Ohio University for one year. Shannon currently lives in Fargo, North Dakota.