Submitted by Grace C. Sims, MSc, ATC*(1), Amanda J. Sinclair Elder, EdD, ATC (1) Craig Elder, PhD, ATC, CSCS, CSPS (1), Margaret Harris, PhD (1)
(1) University of Colorado Colorado Springs
*Corresponding Author-Grace Sims, MSc, ATC, 5810 McArthur Ranch Road
Highlands Ranch, CO 80124, Phone: 303-387-3102, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess the lightning safety knowledge among recreational youth sport coaches around the Colorado Front Range metro areas and examine the relationship between knowledge and safe practices. Additional analyses evaluated lightning knowledge score, correct behavior score, and composite score with years lived in Colorado and years coaching.
Methods: One-hundred and eleven youth sport coaches in Colorado from two youth sport organizations completed an online survey consisting of 25 questions about lightning safety and behavior, including four scenarios.
Results: The results of the study found that lightning knowledge and behavior was lacking in comparison to the guidelines set forth by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and National Weather Service. Participants scored poorly on lightning facts related to storm recognition. The majority of participants displayed familiarity with the “flash-to-bang” method, but were less familiar with the “30-30 rule.” Respondents’ mean overall score on the lightning survey was 58%, and a significant relationship between total knowledge score and total behavior score (p less than 0.01) was found.
Conclusion: The results indicate there is a lack of coach knowledge for understanding how to provide safe environments during severe weather for youth sport participants in this area of Colorado. Further exploration of lightning safety knowledge should be conducted in other lightning prone regions.
Applications in Sport: It is recommended that youth sport organizations in lightning prone areas spend more time, or identify alternative ways, to educate coaches on lightning safety as part of mandatory routine coach training. This training should focus on the published standards for lightning safety in youth sport to create safer playing environments including storm recognition, weather checking, and weather spotters, “flash-to-bang” method, “30-30 rule,” and qualifications of weather-safe shelters. Youth sport directors should ensure adequate preparation of existing safety policies, coach training and compliance with policy, which will in turn increase the safety of their participants and decrease liability for the organization through improved decision-making related to lightning.
KEYWORDS: injury prevention, lightning knowledge, lightning safety, youth coaches, youth sports safety
Lightning is consistently one of the top three causes of nature-related deaths, as well as one of the top four causes of injury in the United States. Aside from flash and river floods, lightning is the most consistent weather-related cause of injury (5,13-14,19-20). Across the United States, the Rocky Mountain region consistently has high lightning density and the highest number of lightning casualties in the United States (5-6,19-20). Colorado led in the number of lightning deaths in 2006 and ranked in the top 6 states for lightning fatality by recording eight lightning fatalities between 2007 and 2013 (25) and 24 between 2003 and 2012 (11). When population-weighted, Colorado was ranked number 2 (Wyoming was number 1) in lightning deaths between 2003 and 2012 (11). Besides the geography of lightning density, another key factor in lightning casualty is that thunderstorms are most common from April through September and from 12:00 pm to around 7:00 pm, which coincides with many outdoor sporting events (5,7,19,30).
Outdoor Sports and Lightning
In the Rocky Mountain region, outdoor sport participation saw a significant increase in the 1990’s (19), and outdoor sport participation maintained popularity in the early 2010’s, second only to fitness (27). With large numbers of people engaging in outdoor sport, the risk of encountering a weather hazard intensifies. Though lightning casualties have trended downward over the last 10 years (NOAA.gov), in part thanks to improved lightning detection technology, lightning fatalities in sport still occur. The National Weather Service reports 17% of lightning fatalities between 2006 and 2013 were sport related (15). These sports include soccer, golf, running, baseball, and football, in rank order. Additionally, the greatest number of fatalities occurred in the 10-19 year old and 20-29 year old age groups. The same NWS report indicates that people are often unwilling to change their plans due to potential thunderstorms because of the inconvenience to their busy schedules, and therefore, they do not consider calling off/postponing events until it is too late.
Youth Sport Coach Safety Preparedness
In 2009, it was indicated that training of youth sport coaches is often basic with few coaches seeking additional training than what is provided by their organization (16). Kim indicated a need to evaluate the effectiveness of required youth sport coach training. Additionally, youth sport organizations often have a difficult time finding enough coaches, so they often rely on parent volunteers with minimal training to fill the role (17,32). While risk management is one component of basic coach training, little research is available assessing coach preparedness for injury prevention and emergency actions while serving as youth sport coaches. The studies that do exist indicate poor preparedness as they demonstrate a lack of first aid/cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification among high school coaches and a tendency to prematurely return injured players to competition (2,28). In light of the research, it is unclear whether or not youth sport coaches are prepared to manage weather related risk for their teams.
Research shows that even where lightning policies are in place, these policies are often inadequate (1,29,31) by not meeting recognized standards for lightning safety. Attarian (1) found misconceptions about lightning safety listed as fact in three lightning safety policies. Walsh et al. (31) studied the existence of lightning safety policies in Division 1 colleges via a phone survey. Results indicated that 92% of schools did not have lightning safety policies, which the researchers inferred as a lack of initiative in injury prevention from lightning, showing a reactive, instead of proactive, approach toward lightning safety. Spengler and colleagues (29) looked at policies and procedures in Florida’s recreation and park agencies through a survey completed by the agency directors. They concluded that while many of the agencies acknowledged the high lightning risk, 57.4% did not have a lightning safety policy or a written lightning safety plan. These researches recommended that lightning safety education and lightning safety policies and procedures should come from already established policies, such as the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), American Meteorological Society (AMS), and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHSA). Cherington (6) stated those in positions of responsibility, including school officials, coaches, parents and referees, should decrease the risk of lightning accidents by taking precautions and providing adequate, factual policies and/or training on what constitutes lightning safety.
Walsh et al. (30), through the NATA, enumerated the recommended components of a sport lighting safety plan for sport and recreation that included the components of establishing an emergency action plan with a specific chain of command, lightning awareness and monitoring, weather-safe location identification, postponement and return-to-play criteria, large venue planning, how to avoid lightning injury, obligation to warn, and maintaining CPR/First Aid certification (an update was published shortly after completion of this study). While these specific guidelines for lightning safety as it relates to sport and recreation participation exist, there are no studies that assess coaches’ knowledge of lightning safety guidelines and practices (3, 24-25, 30). The purpose of this study was to assess the lightning safety knowledge and behaviors among recreational youth sport coaches around the Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado metro areas and examine the relationship between knowledge and safe practices in youth sport.
Youth sport organizations in Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado with football, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, tee-ball, or softball coaches were included in the target population. After receiving permission from three sport directors from two youth sport organizations, invitations to participate in the study were sent to adult youth sport coaches via the sport directors. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained prior to conducting the study.
The study was a cross-sectional descriptive survey design.An original 34-item survey was developed utilizing information from seven lightning safety questions by Walsh et al. (31), important concepts for managing lightning from Bennett (3), and the NATA Position Statement: Lightning Safety for Athletics and Recreation (30). Scenario-based questions in the survey, replicating similar questions in two previously published coach knowledge studies (10,28), were included to assess a more practical approach to lightning safety. Glang et al. (9) found positive results utilizing online mediums to reach coaches, which contributed to the decision to use the internet as the distribution method. The survey included 21 multiple-choice lightning safety policy and knowledge questions, four multiple-choice scenario questions, and nine demographic questions. A group of 34 collegiate exercise science students, involved in sport and enrolled in a care and prevention of athletic injury course, were utilized to examine content validity of the survey items. All feedback provided by the group was evaluated by the authors and corrections were made to improve the usability of the survey.
The 34-item survey was made available online during the first half of 2012, with the link sent to all participants through the youth sport organization directors. An invitation to participate and informed consent were included at the beginning of the survey. The survey was available for three weeks with two reminder emails sent. No personal identifying information was collected.
Descriptive statistics were utilized to describe the population. Chi-squared tests were used to determine significant associations between categorical questionnaire variables, such as those that related to correct answers from knowledge and behavior sections. Continuous variables were assessed for normality. Spearman correlations were utilized to assess associations between continuous variables such as knowledge and behavior scores, and years coaching since variables were not normally distributed. Additionally, composite scores on lightning knowledge, correct behaviors and overall scores were investigated to determine a more comprehensive view of coach knowledge. Statistical significance was set to p less than 0.05. Analyses were completed using SPSS software, version 21. It was hypothesized that youth coaches’ knowledge of lightning safety and management of such situations would be lacking in regards to policies set forth by the NATA Position Statement, as compiled from NOAA, National Weather Service (NWS), and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) guidelines.
The survey was sent to 581 individuals, with 111 people participating, for a 19% return rate, which is within the acceptable 10-20% expected range (26). Descriptive characteristics can be found in Table 1. Only 101 of the 111 participants completed the demographic section. The type of sport coached can be found in Figure 1. Twenty-eight (25.2%) coaches indicated that they coached multiple sports.
Lightning Policy Knowledge
Eight questions investigated the coach’s knowledge of their organization’s policies on lightning safety and all results are available in Table 2. Overall, a majority of coaches (68%, n=75) were aware that their organization had lightning safety policies available while ten (9%) participants did not know whether or not their organization even had a policy. Only about half (56%, n=57) received training on those policies. Many of the coaches (40%, n=40) reported not receiving training on lightning safety guidelines. Many coaches (36 %, n=40) were not aware of weather-safe shelters.
The most ideal time to postpone practice is “when thunder is heard,” however, most participants chose the non-optimal distractor choices of either “when common sense said to” (35%, n=38) or “when lightning was seen” (32%, n=35). The responses to two questions regarding chain of command for lightning safety decisions, during small and large events, were mixed. Two participants chose the “other” category with one responding, “I am responsible for myself and my family – if others follow great.” A higher percentage of participants (11%, n=12) did not know who was in charge of recognizing lightning danger for large events when compared to the small event responses (4%, n=4). One subject wrote in an “other” answer: “This question is a multi-answer – Coach (responsible for team safety), Official (immediate authority figure that should be trained), Sports Director (overall responsibility).”
Lightning Safety Knowledge
Nine questions assessed the coaches’ knowledge of lightning facts and lightning safety (Table 3). Bolded text in the table indicates the correct answer. Three of the four correct signs of approaching thunderstorm activity were correctly identified by almost all of the coaches, with the exception of high winds; only 60%, (n=67) of coaches correctly identified this sign. Similarly, most coaches (84%, n=91) correctly identified the definition of the “flash-to-bang” method. The rest of the nine questions had a poor correct response rate (ranging from 26% to 56% correct response rates) indicating most coaches are not familiar with correct lightning safety knowledge including lightning warning signs, when a practice should be cancelled, appropriate communication method during a storm, grounded buildings, and the “30-30 rule.” Correct signs of approaching thunderstorm and imminent lightning strike were mixed with distractors to determine if participants could appropriately recognize developing storm conditions. While most participants selected the correct answers, the most commonly selected distractors for the signs of thunderstorm were drop in temperature (65%, n=72) and rain (64%, n= 71), while for imminent lightning strike, rain was the most common distractor (35%, n=39). Ten participants (14%) selected all options.
Coach knowledge of the relationship between lightning and thunder was assessed by asking if it was possible to have lightning without thunder and vice versa. While there was a mix of responses, only 24 participants (22%) answered both questions correctly by putting “yes” for the lightning without thunder and “no” for thunder without lightning (χ2 [4, N=111]=23.37, p less than .001). Seven coaches (6%) incorrectly answered both questions. Thirty-nine percent (n=43) of respondents who answered only one of the questions incorrectly thought thunder was possible without lightning, while 24% (n=27) thought it was not possible to have lightning without thunder.
Lightning Safety Behavior
A series of questions evaluated participants’ actions regarding lightning safety (Table 4). Only half of the participants indicated that they always checked the weather before a practice or a game. Only 35 participants (32%) reported that they used a designated weather spotter to monitor signs of developing thunderstorm conditions during an athletic event.
Having a timely retreat to a safe shelter during a lightning storm is important; therefore, participants were asked if they knew the location of the nearest weather-safe shelter at their field and the time it took to get to the shelter. Seventy-one (65%) participants knew both the location of the closest safe shelter and the time to get there, while 36% (n=39) knew neither where the nearest safe shelter was, nor the time needed to arrive there (p less than .001). Additionally, of the 75 people who indicated having knowledge of the location of the closest weather-safe shelter, only 37% (n=28) correctly identified the definition of a “grounded” building, however, this was not statistically significant.
Knowledge Application Scenarios
Coaches were asked four questions assessing their ability to apply lightning knowledge to a potential lightning threat situation (Table 5). The first scenario assessed the ability to correctly utilize the “flash-to-bang” method, and the majority of the coaches answered correctly (86%, n=91). The application of the “flash-to-bang” method was significantly related to knowing the correct definition of the “flash-to-bang” method (χ2 [6, n=106]=15.35, p=.018). Eighty-one participants answered both questions correctly, which was 91% of the 89 participants who selected the correct definition for the “flash-to-bang” method.
The three remaining scenarios assessed both parts of the “30-30 rule” (Table 5). Less than half of the participants (47%, n= 49) knew how many seconds to count between lightning and thunder to make a determination about clearing a field. A second scenario included an extenuating circumstance to determine if the coach knew to restart the count any time additional lightning or thunder was noted before returning to the field. Just over half of the coaches (57%, n=59) correctly selected “restart the count immediately.” The third scenario assessed the last “30” of the “30-30 rule,” regarding the 30 minutes of wait time before returning outdoors to resume play. The majority of participants (72%, n=74) chose correctly.
Total and Composite Scoring
A total number was tallied for identifying the correct signs of an approaching thunderstorm (4 answers) and imminent lightning strike (3 answers). Participants scored an average of 3.40±0.81 (range 1-4) for thunderstorm signs and 1.93±0.98 (range 0-3) for signs of lightning. Out of a possible 14 composite score on all the knowledge-based questions, participants averaged 8.67±1.97 (range 4-13). The behavior score was out of 9 points and participants averaged 4.67±1.99 (range 0-9). When combined for an overall composite score, participants averaged 13.33±3.45 (range 4-21) out of 23 possible points. If percentages were assigned to the scores, the mean total score earned a 58%, the knowledge component average was 62%, and the behavior score was an average of 52%. The average composite knowledge score was 8.76±0.40. Tee-ball coaches had the highest average score at 10.33±1.37, followed by those who coached multiple sports with 9.17±1.62. These results support the hypothesis that participant knowledge and behavior scores were lacking compared to lightning safety guidelines.
Spearman correlation analysis among knowledge, behavior, and total scores to years coaching and years living in Colorado showed no significant relationships (p>.05). Additionally, there was no significant relationship (p>.05) between total score and the number of sports coached. Age was also not found to have a significant relationship with total score or knowledge or behavior scores (p>.05). However, a positive significant relationship (r=.511; p less than .01) was found between the total knowledge score and the total behavior score.
Lightning Policy Knowledge
In our study, all of the organizations affirmed the existence of a lightning safety policy, in contrast to the study by Walsh et al. (31) who showed only 8% (n=4) of collegiate programs had lightning policies, indicating, at least in this instance, that youth sport organizations were better at having lightning policies than collegiate athletic programs. The lack of the current participants having knowledge regarding access to a written lightning policy could be attributed to the quality of training for the coaches (16,32). Kim (16) found that volunteer coach training had little impact on the self-efficacy of the coach signaling that training programs were not effective enough, supporting the current findings. The emphasis placed on the variety of perceived important basic topics required in coach training and training materials of the organizations included in this study may have overshadowed the lightning training component.
Walsh et al. (31) found a lack of specific policies on lightning safety due to an over-reliance on common sense. Our results, while with a different sport venue and age group of athletes, were similar to Walsh et al. in finding a dependence on common sense when it comes to lightning safety. In both the Walsh and current studies, “using common sense” and “when lightning was seen” were the most frequently selected options as a method for determining when to cancel practice. This raises an interesting issue as to whether common sense is sufficient in determining what constitutes a dangerous condition, regardless of the sport setting and whether or not a coach might make a prudent decision about safety of the athletes. When taken into consideration with the number of incorrect responses to the knowledge questions in this survey, common sense does not seem to be so common. Additionally, the use of common sense for decision-making is unwise and difficult to objectify in a lightning safety policy and defend in the case of litigation. Similar concerns have been raised by previous studies (6,30-31,33) showing a link between relying on common sense and the concern that individuals ignore hazardous signs of adverse weather conditions to their detriment.
While the responsibility of the organization as a whole has been previously identified when it comes to risk management, key people within that group need to be educated and aware of the risk potential (8,16,18). Micheli et al. (23) noted similar concerns about governing bodies and the responsibility to have trained coaches. When it comes to chain of command, the youth sport director is often depended upon at large events to recognize potential lightning danger, assuming the director is present and versed in proper lightning safety guidelines. Spengler et al. (29) noted that authorized staff had insufficient training to meet the recommendation of calling off a practice due to weather since only 46% of the agencies held lightning safety training. Our results raised similar concerns with the variety of responses regarding who is in charge of making the call when lightning is imminent. We did have one subject offer a thoughtful “other” answer demonstrating an appropriate lightning policy knowledge: the coach is responsible for team safety, but the official should be trained, while the sports director has the overall responsibility. It is essential for youth sport organizations to ensure that coaches are aware of the chain of command for making the weather related decisions about events.
Keeping in mind the difference in age of the athlete populations and the level of coach, the results of this study showed a higher dependence on the coach to suspend activity than the 10% reported in the collegiate study by Walsh et al. (31). This difference is likely related to the availability of extra staff for collegiate sports as opposed to the youth sport organization. This dependence on a youth sport coach to make the call raises concerns about the coach being responsible enough in recognizing lightning danger at a small event as demonstrated by the comment of one subject that “I am responsible only for myself and my family…” Parents often put their children in organized sport trusting that the supervising individuals have the necessary knowledge and desire to protect the children from harm, yet many of the coaches are volunteers and may feel that they have less responsibility to the group. However, the youth sport organization must still consider the quality of the volunteer coach when hiring/appointing, as the organization will maintain liability for the participants in their program (18). Therefore, the volunteer coach must understand that there is assumed responsibility at minimizing risk even if they aren’t a paid employee of the organization.
Lightning Safety Knowledge
There is an obvious disconnect between the dissemination of correct information about lightning and the knowledge held by individuals who supervise youth sports as demonstrated by our results. Misconceptions about lightning safety facts, such as correct storm recognition or weather-safe shelters, can put individuals at increased risk. Our study supports Attarian’s (1) conclusion that more education on correct lightning facts is needed to avoid misconceptions. It was interesting to observe that nearly one-third of the participants in our sample selected contradicting signs for an approaching thunderstorm, particularly related to wind, e.g. high wind, change in wind direction, wind stops. The main concern that arose from this question was the misconception that rain was a sign of approaching thunderstorm activity. According to the NATA position statement (30) a lack of rain is not a reason to violate the 30 minute return-to-play guideline. Zimmerman et al. (33) identified the presence of rain as a common misconception for people regarding lightning danger. Makdissi and Brukner (22) indicated a lack of rain was not a reason to resume play in the Australian lightning in sport position statement. Lopez et al. (20) have also supported this as a misconception in their description of a dry thunderstorm that has little, if any, rain. The common misconceptions held by these participants could lead to placing youth athletes in a potentially dangerous situation, making improved awareness and promotion of correct information vital. It appears that participants’ interpretation of lightning safety knowledge may be based on personal experience, previous coaching situations, or years of living in a state with prevalent thunderstorm activity rather than on factual information.
Participants who believe thunder occurs without lightning may be less likely to seek shelter or look to postpone an event since they can rationalize that lightning is not the cause of the thunder. Two studies emphasized the importance of personal recognition of dangerous conditions and the need to educate people to be able to recognize adverse conditions (12,20). Other researchers concur that educating the public can help decrease the risk of lightning casualties (5,20-21). Based on the misconceptions evident in these public youth sport organizations, our results support the previous conclusion regarding public education.
While participants may know of a close shelter, the incorrect responses to the definition of “grounded” did not instill confidence that coaches can determine if that shelter is safe from lightning strike. Because of this lack of knowledge, it is even more important for youth sport organizations to specify the weather-safe locations at their venues for their staff to access when necessary (3,13,22,30,33).
Based on a close division in selection of storm watch versus storm warning as criteria to consider cancelling practice, it appears many coaches do not know the exact definition of the terms, impeding their ability to know the severity of potential weather. Participants displayed caution in their selection of the safest form of communication for emergency calls during a storm by choosing “neither.” However, cell phones are considered safer than landlines if needed in an emergency. Concern exists for those participants who indicated a landline was safe for emergency calls; while the presence of telephone lines is one of the criterion that “grounds” a building to lightning by transmission of electrical current, this is what makes the landline phone an unsafe choice for use during a storm (3).
Criteria to recognize when to suspend and resume play is vital to lightning safety and is represented in two terms called the “flash-to-bang” method and the “30-30 rule.” The “flash-to-bang” method was correctly identified by a vast majority of the participants, which is positive, yet it is still of concern that 16% (n=17) did not know or selected an incorrect definition for “flash-to-bang.” Of additional concern is less than half (46%, n=51) of those responding correctly identified the “30-30 rule,” since it represents the criteria for recognizing lightning danger and safe return-to-play. One particular article (12) examined data in Colorado and found many people did not abide by the 30-second count as they felt it was too restrictive. We also found “less restrictive” approaches in our results where twenty coaches (19%) indicated it is safe to resume play 15 minutes after the last flash of lightning/clap of thunder. Although this is the first study on youth sport coaches’ knowledge of lightning safety, it is possible this lack of knowledge is more prevalent than realized and may be indicative of the culture in this lightning-prevalent region.
Lightning Safety Behavior
As indicated by the significant relationship between total knowledge and total behavior scores, it is evident that there is some degree of failure to translate lightning knowledge into appropriate practical behaviors. Over half of the participants (52%, n=57) indicated they checked the weather every day, aligning with the NATA position statement (30) recommendations in turn improving their preparation for potential weather hazards. Two participants selected that they never check the weather, which is concerning. Conversely, the majority of participants responded they did not have a designated weather spotter or they did not know if they had one. Weather spotters are useful for monitoring developing storm conditions as well as for being aware of approaching thunderstorm danger during athletic events, without being distracted by other responsibilities (12,22,30,33). Holle et al. (12) also recommend weather spotters because coaches or officials are often occupied with the athletic competition and are not able to focus on developing weather conditions. While there may not be enough staff to support the weather spotter at a youth sport practice, there are often parents around at youth sport practices and events that could be trained to fill the weather spotter role.
Although no outdoor location is safe during a thunderstorm, when no shelter is available, the lightning crouch is a last minute safety effort to reduce the risk of lightning strike by assuming a position that minimizes some of the potential mechanisms of lightning injury (4,12,30). It became obvious that awareness and training of the lightning crouch position in youth sport is insufficient as few participants knew the appropriate position of the lightning crouch. Many participants selected “lie flat on the ground,” and while this position is commonly recommended for tornado danger, it is not indicated for minimizing the risk of lightning strike.
Through an attempt to connect knowledge and behavior when looking at the “flash-to-bang” method and the “30-30 rule,” we found that the “flash-to-bang” method was most familiar to the participants as they demonstrated better understanding of how to apply “flash-to bang” than the “30-30 rule.” The knowledge and associated behavior comparison for the “30-30 rule” garnered favorable results for the first part of the rule, but it was the latter part that raised concern. This result is likely due to the lack of knowledge previously discussed. Holle et al. (12) pointed out the danger of lightning is just as significant at the end of a storm, as it was during the storm, indicating the importance of emphasizing delaying return-to-play during training to coaches who are likely eager to return to practice. One question investigated the return-to-play component in the “30-30 rule” to ascertain if participants were able to apply the entirety of the “30-30 rule” for restarting the 30 minute clock when thunder and lightning continued. There was more discrepancy among responses for this scenario involving ongoing thunderstorm conditions while waiting to return to play. This lack of knowledge and application of when it is safe to return to play is concerning, as it again can place the youth athletes at increased risk.
This study investigated the lightning safety knowledge of volunteer youth sport coaches. Our results indicate cause for concern regarding the appropriate lightning safety action by youth sport coaches in each area of lightning safety content investigated. While many participants indicated they had an organizational policy and they check the weather frequently prior to a practice or event, implementation of the policies was problematic because of lack of access, knowledge of access and/or lack of attention to the training provided. It remains questionable that the coaches know how to respond appropriately when lightning is imminent due to a lack of understanding of what constitutes a weather-safe shelter, lightning facts, and a reliance on common sense instead of proactive elements, such as having a weather spotter. Overall, this study indicated promise in that the organizations had lightning safety policies, however, findings about youth sport coach knowledge about lightning safety has led to concerns about the preparedness of youth sport coaches in preventing lightning injury or death in the Front Range of Colorado.
While we feel that this study has demonstrated some gaps in youth coach preparedness for lightning safety, we recognize the limitations. The youth sport directors did not participate in the study, leaving a gap in the findings as to their understanding of their role in lightning safety policy. Many participants did not complete all demographic questions, making it impossible to compare the differences between the organizations, which may have assisted in providing information about whether or not the organization’s approach to training impacted the findings. We also recognize that the limited number of organizations that were willing to participate impacts the generalizability of the findings, however, even in a high lightning-risk area, the findings remain a concern.
APPLICATION TO SPORT
Youth sport coach training should expand beyond the basic coach training with an emphasis on athlete safety to ensure coach preparedness. Additionally, other persons in position of authority as indicated in policies should be included on the training. When considering safety issues, weather-related conditions should be included and address correct safety procedures based on reliable resources put forth by the NWS, NOAA and the NATA. Organizations that lack a lightning safety policy should utilize readily available guidelines set forth by these agencies to advocate for lightning safety for their participants and promote a safer, proactive playing environment. If directors are not competent in weather-related issues, they should seek support from other professionals who are capable in weather-related policy, as well as seek assistance from their risk management advisor/legal counsel. Even in cases where good policy is in place, the translation to implementation needs to be assured.
Access to policies should be made readily available to all coaches and administrators, and verification should be made that they have read and understand the policies. A list of weather-safe shelters should be provided at each location the organization utilizes, resulting in improved safety behaviors. Weather spotter training should be provided to coaches and/or other individuals who will be named responsible for watching for potential weather concerns. The chain of command for making weather related decisions should be clearly defined for practices, small and large sport events. Finally, coach training should also include a focus on storm recognition, when and how to clear a field of play and when to allow return-to-play, identification of storm-shelters, and application of lightning safety knowledge through practical scenarios. With the primary goal of safer participation through proactive behaviors, lightning safety will hopefully become a routine topic of training and education among coaches.
The authors do not have any financial or non-financial conflicts of interest to disclose.
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