NDSU, MSUM Study Examines Coaches’ First Aid Skills

A new study by NDSU and MSUM researchers has taken a close look at how well coaches are trained for emergency situations.

Sudden cardiac death is a leading cause of death among amateur and recreational athletes and has been linked to the lack of bystander intervention. So, the critical question is: Do coaches know how to give proper emergency aid? 

The study reveals that most coaches in our region are confident about their first aid knowledge regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of defibrillators.

The team of researchers from the NDSU Department of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science and the MSUM Department of Health and Physical Education surveyed 738 high school coaches from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.  The top three sports represented were basketball, football and track and field.

The work was conducted by NDSU Professor Brad Strand, Assistant Professor Shannon David and Assistant Professor Katie Lyman, along with Jay Albrecht, Assistant Professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

The survey found 67 percent of coaches are certified in first aid, while 68 percent are certified in CPR and the use of defibrillators.  A total of 32 percent do not hold current certification, but of that number, 80 percent of the coaches stated they had previously been formally certified.  The researchers also found that certified coaches were confident when dealing with concussions. The results of this study were contradictory to two previous studies that found coaches’ knowledge to be less than adequate.

“It is imperative that the safety of athletes be of utmost concern, and it is comforting to know that the majority of high school coaches are well prepared to handle basic first aid and CPR issues as they arise on playing fields and courts,” Strand said. “However, schools should never put coaches into situations in which they exceed their scope of practice. Rather, schools should employ highly qualified and certified athletic trainers to handle all decisions regarding sport-related injuries.”

The research revealed most coaches were able to accurately answer questions related to return-to-play, level of consciousness, external bleeding and cardiac arrest. However, the results also found that some coaches were unable to correctly answer questions specific to rest, ice compression and elevation.

David points out that it is important for coaches to be certified. She said if a coach has allowed their certification to lapse, they are not up-to-date with the most recent research and treatment approaches.

“It is vital to be current in the training,” she said. “It is never a bad idea to attend seminars on these topics as knowledge is power, especially when it comes to emergency situations. You can never be too prepared for an emergency event.”

The researchers suggest the survey results should be considered by school administrators in order to implement continuing education for all coaches. They also describe their work as a pilot study and encourage further research involving coaches throughout the country, using a larger set of questions related to specific emergency situations such as asthma, concussions and heat illness.