The Essential Question Parents Must Always Pose to Their Children’s Coaches


June 15, 2023

With the arrival of summer break, American children are engaging in a variety of new activities, such as adventure camps, art classes, and sports leagues. Among these options, youth sports like baseball, tennis, and swimming are particularly popular, offering children the opportunity to develop resilience, teamwork, discipline, and honesty.

While these activities provide important life skills, parents also prioritize the safety and well-being of their children. When it comes to sports and physical activities, one topic that doctors strongly urge parents to address is the availability of automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

Dr. Marina Del Rios, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa and expert volunteer for the American Heart Association, emphasizes the importance of having an emergency response plan for cardiac arrest in youth sports programs. Cardiac arrest refers to the sudden loss of heart function, which occurs when the heart stops beating and stops pumping blood to essential organs, including the brain.

The most common cause of cardiac arrest in sports, particularly with commotio cordis, is ventricular fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that occurs suddenly. This condition is often a result of blunt trauma to the chest, such as being hit by a baseball or hockey puck or physical contact with other players. While these cases are rare, reports indicate that 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 80,000 young athletes die from sudden cardiac death each year.

During a cardiac arrest, an AED can deliver an electrical shock to restore the heart’s natural rhythm. The prompt use of CPR and AEDs significantly increases the chances of survival, as every minute of delay decreases the survival rate by 10%. An ideal example of a rapid response is the case of NFL player Damar Hamlin, who experienced on-field cardiac arrest but was revived by medical staff promptly performing CPR and using an AED.

To ensure the safety of their children, Del Rios encourages parents to inquire about the availability of AEDs and the staff’s preparedness in responding to cardiac emergencies in summer sports programs. It is important to know which staff members have received CPR and AED training, as well as whether student CPR education and awareness are available, starting from an early age.

AEDs have clear instructions and illustrations for ease of use, automatically analyzing heart rhythm and providing shock only if necessary. They are designed to be user-friendly, allowing anyone to follow the prompts on the defibrillator. Since Hamlin’s high-profile cardiac arrest, he has been raising awareness about the importance of cardiac emergency preparedness, advocating for the increased availability of AEDs in schools, community centers, and public spaces.

Dr. Naomi Kertesz, director of electrophysiology and pacing at The Heart Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, emphasizes that AEDs should be within two minutes’ reach of where a child is at all times during school and after-school activities. If the sports field is farther away, the AED should be brought to the field. AEDs should be present for all games and practices, including away games.

As the summer sports season commences, parents should ensure that AEDs are readily available within 100 feet of staff, instead of being locked up in a cabinet. It is crucial to establish a clear protocol for medical emergencies. Additionally, parents should inquire about the regular checking of AEDs to ensure the battery is charged and the pads have not expired. Regular medical emergency drills should also be conducted.

While it is vital to address AED access and medical protocols with sports coaches, cardiac emergency preparedness extends beyond sports activities. Del Rios emphasizes that everyone should learn the basics of cardiac arrest resuscitation, including calling 911, performing CPR, and using an AED. Parents should prepare themselves and their families to respond to a cardiac arrest, as about 80% of cardiac arrests occur at home, typically involving someone known and loved.

In conclusion, by prioritizing the availability of AEDs and ensuring preparedness for cardiac emergencies, parents can take proactive steps to safeguard their children during summer sports activities.

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