By Andy Gibbons
Jun 25, 2015

A Varsity Coach Talks To Mom About Safety

When it comes to Scouting, parents are usually quite supportive of the activities, aims and methods that Scout leaders use to teach their son. But when they hear the words “high adventure” some parents may feel some anxiety about the safety of their youth on these more challenging—not to mention fun—activities.

So, I’ve put together a role play between a mom and a Varsity Coach to go over some of those concerns and show how every coach ought to plan each high adventure activity to ensure the safety of their Scouts.

 Mom: Thanks for taking the time to talk. I have some questions about my son and the Varsity Scout program.
Coach: No, thank you. Jeff is a great young man, and I want to do anything I can to help him have a successful experience in our team. He has great potential.We are hoping to get him out to more of our activities. We have a biking trip to Moab coming up, and we might get some rock climbing in, too.
 Mom: (Look of mild anxiety) Well, see? That’s one of the things I wanted to talk about. That sounds dangerous!
Coach: We are aiming for fun, and I think we are taking the real danger out of it.
 Mom: How?
Coach: We do a lot of challenging things because, believe it or not, the boys like the challenge. It gives them a chance to prove themselves. But as we plan activities there are several things we do to eliminate risk of harm.
 Mom: Like what?
Coach: Well, first, during the planning process we try not to guess. If we have an activity that has an element of risk, we bring in specialists to help us plan safety into what we are going to do.
 Mom: So, what would you do for biking?
Coach: We have scheduled Mike, from Mike’s Bikes, to come give us a kick-off briefing on Tuesday night at the Team Meeting. He has some videos and a safety briefing that he gives so the young men can begin to see the right way to do difficult things without getting hurt.
 Mom: Is that enough?
Coach: No, not quite. Mike will return in two weeks to be the inspector for a bike safety inspection. Jeff will want to bring his bike and whatever trail tools he has, and Mike will go over his bike and suggest things Jeff needs to do to get his bike ready for a ride like this.
 Mom: So we might have to fix some things up? Well, that’s reasonable. And the bike will be safer than if we did nothing.
Coach: That’s a good point. But there are more things we do for safety. Two of them are conditioning and skill building.
 Mom: Conditioning?
Coach: Yes. It is a big risk when youth take part in major physical activities their bodies are not conditioned for. That’s a big contributor to injuries. For this reason, we will work up to our biking event in smaller and more local events that prepare us physically for something more demanding.
 Mom: I see that this is generally good. My son spends less time than his Dad did in physical activities. These work-ups are a good idea.
Coach: Another thing we do on these work-up activities that contributes to safety is skill building. For this purpose we choose different kinds of terrain and different kinds of challenge, like games and competitions. This makes the learning fun.
 Mom: But can’t everybody ride a bike?
Coach: Most people can ride a bike, but they do it at different levels of skill. Some people never get past the “wobbly” stage of skill, so they are a concern when your drive past them on the street. You don’t know whether they will dart out in front of you as they try to regain control.
 Mom: So the practice activities give them better control as they ride?
Coach: Yes. And as they gain better control, they become safer. At the same time, they become more confident in their own abilities, because they have accepted the challenge and see good results.
 Mom: I like that part. It’s good for boys to overcome obstacles. Today it’s the star athletes that have the most chances. What you’re saying is that every boy can rise to a challenge.
Coach: There’s one additional aspect of safety that keeps your son out of danger on Varsity activities. That is that Scouting safety regulations require us to use safety gear appropriate to the activity.
 Mom: Jeff already uses a biking helmet. We insist on that.
Coach: That’s good, but I mentioned that this major activity will also involve some mountaineering.
 Mom: (anxiety again) What does that mean?
Coach: We will probably do some bouldering and maybe rappel some.
 Mom: Do I want my son doing that?
Coach: Yes, because it’s done in the same safe way. We use expert and certified advisors to train us, we have training activities leading up to the main activity, we build skill over time, and we use safety equipment. In the case of mountaineering, this includes safety harnesses, sound equipment, helmets, and certified experts on-site with us.
 Mom: And that makes it safer?
Coach: Yes. All of these make it safer, and that channels the young man’s normal risk-taking impulses in a safe way. Instead of going with a group of friends using questionable equipment and no training, Jeff will know how to face a challenge in a prepared manner, minimizing risk.
 Mom: Okay. I like this way of approaching Varsity events. I think I feel better about Jeff participating, knowing that insuring safety is part of the planning process. Is there a place I can go to read more about this?
Coach: Yes, there are BSA publications accessible online at: http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/HealthandSafety/GSS.aspx

I hope this conversation helps parents understand a little more about the process we go through to ensure safety for our older youth involved in high adventure. I also hope it will help our Varsity Coaches understand what parents might want to know about activities and gain the support of the parents in our activities.

For more information on Scout safety and high adventure safety see the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Andy--131x150Author: Andy Gibbons | Vice-Chair, Western Region Varsity Scout Program Committee Program Chair

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