A quick post today on some good news; Coach David Stinson was acquitted on charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment. The Kentucky high school coach was charged after one of his players, 15 year old Max Gilpin, collapsed during wind sprints and died later in the week. If the jury had found him guilty, the verdict would have represented another brick in the wall being constructed by some in society between children and sport. More and more, parents are demanding that youth coaches who are mostly volunteer or low paid high school folks, spend money from their own pocket or time stolen from their own families to provide services beyond teaching the game.More and more, parents are also demanding that children be allowed to play sports without risk; in the minds of many, children coached by responsible people are never injured or at risk of trauma.
During my time as a coach, I was stunned at the number of parents able to entertain the notion that their children had a future in professional athletics, while at the same time reminding me that I shouldn’t require the kids to do “too much”. “My (14 year old) child is going to get a scholarship in 4 years to go to college, but it is expecting too much for him to memorize a playbook and learn his snap counts.” In specific reference to the case in Kentucky, I have had innumerable conversations with parents about proper hydration; “Hydration does not mean stopping at McDonald’s for a soda on the way to practise.”; “Hydration does not mean bringing an energy drink for the beginning of practise and a Gatorade for the end.”
The heat index on the day max Gilpin was stricken was just over 100 degrees; a temperature well beneath those I practised in during two-a-days in high school. Millions of kids have and continue to play sports in challenging temperatures, with a handful stricken as severely as Max was last summer. From the case it appears that he, like most of the other children and adults who are stricken with heat-related illness (doing a variety of things) every year, had contributing factors. He was on medication as well as creatine (the label for which is clear in the absolute necessity of drinking more WATER to maintain hydration), which both contributed to his problems. It is not clear that extra conditioning drove him over the edge, but it is clear that it was an accident.
Let me be absolutely clear; Max Gilpin and his parents are not responsible for his death. It was an accident. But the case was clear in the need to manage risk by all parties involved; parents, coaches, and athletes. One of my coaching mentors used to talk about the need to know the difference between being hurt or injured; I would suggest that another need involves the difference between being fatigued or distressed. Sometimes, those lines are pretty fine. This means that a little knowledge shared with a lot of people will go a long way.