In high-level sports teams (whether college or professional teams), there is a lot that is done for the athletes. Logistics are coordinated for them and tutors may be arranged when necessary. Food, travel, and training are all figured out on the athletes' behalf. Schedules are usually pretty tightly controlled, and everything is customized for the individual player.
Most of the time, this is a pretty fantastic arrangement. The athlete doesn't have to worry about the details outside of his or her athletic performance (and in the case of the college athlete, his or her academic performance.) And the team is able to use its perspective and knowledge to choose the best structures and support for the team.
Things start to get a little less clear, however, when there is a health issue or injury. Very quickly, "Plan A" becomes irrelevant, and the trainer, coach, player, and medical providers have to come up with a Plan B. All of which, of course, forces the question:
When athletes are sick or injured, where do their rights end and the team's rights begin? Do trainers and coaches have a right to share health information and take part in decisions?
Especially with more severe health issues, conflicts can emerge between the interests of the team and the interests of the athlete. For instance, if an athlete could continue playing with a knee issue for a few years, but would experience restricted mobility 5 years down the road, what should be done? Often, the athlete himself would choose to keep playing despite the long-term consequences, but what if he wishes not to while the team needs him to play? Interestingly, the National Athletic Trainers Association does not seem to address this conflict in their code of ethics. As we discussed recently: "there can sometimes be a contradiction between supporting a young athlete in reaching his full potential today and preparing him for his life after sports. Second, the athletic trainer and department must consider the needs of not just "this" athlete -- but of all the athletes on the team, present and future."
These are complex issues with no easy answer. However, as medical providers who have worked with athletes and teams from Little League to the Major Leagues, we have noticed some patterns. In short: the more that the athlete's medical providers collaborate and communicate, the fewer conflicts arise. When we've used iClickCare to facilitate communication among a surgeon, an athletic trainer, a physical therapist, and the family doctor, everyone seemed to quickly arrive at a good conclusion. However, when there is little collaboration or communication, that's when folks seem to dig in and see less alignment and more conflict.
How have you made sure that team and athlete interests are all respected when health issues occur? We'd love to learn from your experience in the comments below.
Read more about how medical collaboration changes things:
Image courtesy of wvutech on Flickr, used under Creative Commons rights.