Newsletter Articles

Hypoxic Training: A Risk Analysis

January 15, 2014

Shawn P. DeRosa, J.D.
Manager of Aquatic Facilities & Safety Officer for Intercollegiate Athletics
The Pennsylvania State University

Shallow water blackout (“SWB”), also referred to as hypoxic blackout, is a term describing loss of consciousness arising from oxygen deprivation brought about by voluntary or involuntary hyperventilation.

In swimming, voluntary hyperventilation occurs when a swimmer intentionally “overbreathes,” blowing off carbon dioxide.  Involuntary hyperventilation can occur as a result of stress and physical exertion during a workout that pushes the swimmer beyond his/her maximum aerobic capacity (VO2 max).

This “silent killer” of otherwise healthy, accomplished swimmers should give pause to every coach and aquatic director around the world. Do we need to rethink how we run our practices or manage our facilities?

The dangers of breath holding are well known and well documented. The U.S. Naval Center website contains multiple examples of competent swimmers who lost their lives to shallow water blackout. Media outlets continue to highlight drownings of swimmers found unconscious, underwater following breath holding activities. In February 2013, swimmer Alex Bousky of the Peoria Notre Dame Varsity swim team suffered a non-fatal drowning. Bousky’s team is reported to have been working on how far they could swim underwater.

Industry groups including USA Swimming, the American Red Cross, the National Swimming Pool Foundation and the U.S. Navy have long cautioned against underwater breath holding activities, particularly those involving hyperventilation. Other groups, such as the YMCA of the USA and the Department of Morale, Welfare and Recreation of the U.S. Navy outright ban such extremely dangerous activities. Why? Because SWB has been proven to kill otherwise healthy swimmers.

While USA Swimming has not mandated a ban on restricted breathing training on the surface of the water, the national governing body for swimming admits that there is “no evidence that swimming without oxygen necessarily trains the anaerobic system.” USA Swimming states that there is a difference “between having swimmers hold their breath while swimming under water versus an extended breathing pattern while swimming on the surface.” The latter, is thought to improve oxygen management capacity. The former has proven to be deadly.

While USA Swimming and the American Red Cross continue to educate coaches regarding the difference between extending the breathing pattern on the surface and breath holding drills beneath the surface, some coaches continue to place athletes at risk of injury or death by doing “over/unders” or “lungbuster repeats.”

Even more dangerous is when a coach puts pressure on the athlete to swim extended distances underwater, such as by requiring an entire team to repeat an underwater drill if any one athlete surfaces to breathe. This creates a concern for athlete welfare as well as a potential area of liability, both for the coach and the employer.

Aquatic programs are advised to follow a risk management approach to addressing safety and liability concerns presented by hypoxic blackout. This entails evaluating the nature of the risk before selecting a risk aversion or risk management strategy. This also requires distinguishing between underwater drills and those conducted on the surface of the water. As both drills can lead to SWB, an evaluation must be made as to the likelihood or frequency of SWB resulting from such drills as well as the possible severity of such occurrence. Read more

Electronic Waivers Revisited

January 15, 2014

John Wolohan
Professor of Sports Law
Department of Sport Management
Syracuse University

We have all heard the warnings that waivers are not worth the paper they are printed on, and while it is true that some courts do not like waivers and will void them if possible, in must be noted that in at least 45 states a well-written waiver, signed by an adult, is the most effective tool available to sport and recreation providers and their employees against a negligence lawsuit. With the myth of the effectiveness of waivers still around, it is therefore not surprising that some sport and recreation providers are concerned about the legal impact of online or electronic waivers. For example, if a sport and recreation program requires its’ participants to go online and sign a waiver before being allowed to participate in the event, will it carry the same legal weight as off-line or traditional paper waivers?
The purpose of this article is to try and debunk the myth that online or electronic waivers carry less legal weight than other types of waivers. Read more

The Road Map to Successful Facility Management: Part 3

January 12, 2014

Jimmy Francis
Director, Student Recreation Center
CSU, Northridge

Editors note: This article is the first of a 3-part series. Part 1: Human Resource Management, Part 2: Building and Equipment Management, Part 3: Budget Management.

Part 3: Budget Management
It would be challenging to accomplish all the strategies discussed throughout this series of articles without the proper funding. Whether you are dedicating staff to research questions that were asked in this article or replacing a malfunctioning piece of equipment on your fitness floor, those things cost money. In this last major stop on our road map to successful facility management, four aspects of budgeting for a facility will be discussed. There are many different ways to approach the planning and management of a facility budget and there a few important core values of a successful budgeter.

A successful budget manager should be organized and analytical. You must spend time both organizing your budget and thinking about it. Don’t forget that, ultimately, your boss pays you to not only do things, but to think!

Lastly, in the midst of these tough economic times, entrepreneurial thinking can be one of the best qualities a professional can have. Those that specialize in doing more with less and figuring out additional ways to generate revenue from their facility are the ones moving up the ladder. Now that a few core values have been introduced, four areas of facility management budgeting will be discussed.
Read more

Youth Camps: Scary Stuff!

April 17, 2013

Priority areas for managing risk

Ian McGregor, Ph.D.
President, Ian McGregor & Associates Inc.

Guess which Campus Recreation program has the highest risk profile? That’s right – Youth Camps!

Since your clients are MINORS, the standard of care is very high. The ‘reasonable parent test’ requires you to take care of minors as if they are your own children. That’s a pretty high standard!! Hence program planners need to pay extra attention and apply sound risk management principles when planning camps.

The recent ‘Freeh Report’ has brought into sharp focus the enormous duty universities accept when minors venture onto campus to participate in an amazing variety of programs and activities aimed specifically at minors. (How has your school reacted to the Freeh report? You may want to find out!)

Your planning list is long e.g. staffing, supervision, training, documentation, emergency response — to name only a few issues. This article focuses on what you MUST take care of as a top priority.
Read more

The Power of the Waiver:

April 17, 2013

Loychuk v. Cougar Mountain Adventures Ltd.

Bruno De Vita
Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP

Waivers and releases of liability have been proven to be an effective risk management tool
in avoiding liability, particularly for entities that are regularly engaged in the area of sport
and recreation. A recent decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Loychuk v.
Cougar Mountain Adventures Ltd., 2012 BCCA 122 demonstrates just how powerful a tool
waivers can be and, when properly drafted, how resilient they can be to challenges of
unfairness and unconscionability.

The case involved two plaintiffs, Loychuck and Westgeest. They were injured when
Westgeest was allowed to be sent down a zipline by Cougar Mountain employees at a time
when Loychuck, who had immediately preceded her, was suspended on the line before
reaching the bottom. Although the guides employed by the operator were in communication
by walkie-talkie, the individual directing Westgeest was not advised that Loychuck had
become suspended in mid-course. Westgeest was allowed to proceed down the line and
came into collision with Loychuck at considerable speed and without any ability to stop
herself or slow her descent. The operator’s employees were clearly negligent and so the
only defence available to the operator was the waiver of liability that each of the plaintiffs
had signed prior to the commencement of the activity.
Read more

The Ball is in Your Court

April 17, 2013

Sports Law 101: Negligence

Katharine M. Nohr, J.D.

The most important type of tort to understand in sports risk management and sports law is negligence. Negligence is conduct that falls below a reasonable person standard. In other words, it is the failure to exercise reasonable care that a reasonably prudent person would have in the same or similar circumstances. This standard applies to acts as well as omissions.

There are elements that a plaintiff in a lawsuit has to prove in order for a defendant to be found to be negligent. The four elements of negligence are as follows:
Read more

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