In the past 12 years the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football has mourned the deaths of 21 players due to intense conditioning sessions. This alarming rise in deaths has led the NCAA to finally introduce new guidelines to take preventive measures.

According to the National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA) 11 players have died as early as the first or second day of training, implying the player did not have time to adjust to their new workouts. Of these deaths, 75 percent included players from Division I teams.

Rodger Saffold, who was drafted three years ago from Indiana University and is currently an offensive tackle on the St. Louis Rams, admitted athletes habitually overextend themselves, so it is vital for trainers, and coaches, to provide guidance to guarantee their safety. Saffold revealed as a former collegiate player he also often pushed himself too far.

The new guidelines, entitled "Preventing Sudden Death in Collegiate Conditioning Sessions: Best Practices Recommendations," make the following recommendations to prevent injuries and death among amateur athletes during conditioning sessions: 

  • Introduce new conditioning activities gradually and allow athletes to acclimate.
  • Exercise and conditioning activities should not be used as punishment.
  • Strength and conditioning coaches must have the proper education, experience and credentials.
  • Athletes must have medical supervision, including a strength and conditioning coach and athletic trainer.
  • An emergency action plan must be developed and tested.
  • Coaches and staff must be prepared to provide first aid as soon as an athlete shows signs of distress.
  • Coaches and staff must be aware of athletes' medical conditions.
  • Health and safety concerns for student athletes must be managed during strength and conditioning workouts.
  • A working partnership should be established with recognized professional organizations, including athletic, coaching, sports medicine and strength and conditioning organizations.
  • Coaches and their medical staff must complete adequate continuing education.

Jay Hoffman, president of National Strength and Conditioning Association and a member of the task force, stresses these new preventive guidelines will also lower the liability of school, organizations, administrators, team and coaches.

The task force guidelines were presented June 27 during NATA's annual meeting in St. Louis. They will also be published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.