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A data-driven approach to protecting student athletes

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Research shows that students who participate in extracurricular activities have better grades, better behavior and better graduation rates. While this is the accepted norm, Greenville County Schools, where I am the director of athletics, wanted current information on participation and performance. We believe in the value of extracurricular participation in all areas of athletics and arts, but we also wanted to look at protecting our students from being overstressed, overworked and injured.

One barrier to getting a complete picture of participation and performance had been that each individual school only knew about what was happening at that school; there was no coordination or understanding of what was happening elsewhere. The effectiveness of our efforts were also limited by formatting irregularities, different styles of record-keeping and paper versus computer records. So about four years ago, we started using an extracurricular management platform that our athletic trainers could use to track data for all 20 sports at the high-school and middle school levels.

Over the last few years, we have been able to introduce an injury-reduction plan, showing great improvement in reducing injuries in baseball and shortening “return to play times.” Our concussion awareness education has been successful as well. Also based on the data we have gathered, we have extended the responsibilities of our in-house web content team to include new scheduling data and to link the extracurricular management platform with our grade platform to again assure we get the most recent information for research purposes.

My biggest recommendation to other school leaders who want to adopt a data-driven approach to assessing, preventing and treating student athlete injuries is to audit their current processes and work to eliminate paper. While our research team has greatly benefited from moving much of our work online, we can only imagine the efficiency we could gain by eliminating the collation, filing and overall management of paper.

Safety of our student-athletes is paramount. The children we serve are our greatest resource. We should provide the best teaching, coaching, facilities and care possible. Our goal is to define as narrowly as possible when and why injuries are occurring. Then, knowing that the added stress of injuries has a negative impact on the academic performance of student athletes, we will use every piece of information we can gather to develop practices and policies that will protect them.

We take an integrated approach to data collection, so we gather information on academics, attendance, injury awareness, injury prevention, amount of practice and game exposures. Our desire is to use and share this data among stakeholders to create the best environment possible for the “whole student.”

Darryl Nance is the director of athletics for Greenville County Schools in South Carolina, where he uses the extracurricular management platform Planet HS.