The Evidence-Based Athletic Department
A director of athletics details how a shift from paper to digital forms has saved his staff time and helped them gather actionable data about student injuries.
Guest post by Darryl Nance
Like many districts around the country, Greenville (SC) County Schools has been moving in the direction of data-driven decision-making in all areas, including our athletic department. While our athletic trainers have long been able to electronically document injuries, the bulk of other data necessary for injury prevention and effectiveness research has, until recently, remained out of our grasp.
A significant portion of the information came to the school via paper forms completed by athletes and parents, so there was no structured data. Now that we are using the extracurricular management platform PlanetHS, those athletes and parents can fill out forms online, so all inputs come in as structured data.
Data collection had also been a challenge because every Greenville County sports team is supported by a medical team. For many years, the Greenville Health System has hired athletic trainers who are assigned to each middle and high school on a full-time basis. Orthopedic physicians from the Steadman Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas offer free weekend clinics, after-clinic open hours, and at-game coverage for the schools. The nonprofit Hawkins Foundation and the Center for Effectiveness Research in Orthopaedics work in concert with these medical and academic professionals to provide the necessary infrastructure and scientific insight to prevent injuries, improve treatments, and support the health of each student.
Another roadblock to gathering useful data was that coaches and school athletic directors had developed schedules in various formats that were difficult to assimilate into a data set. Without schedules of practices and games, researchers have no way to know exposures (the actual amount of time an athlete is involved in the sport and at risk for injury) for each athlete—and therefore are unable to conduct accurate assessments. Now, coaches and athletic directors place practice and game schedules directly into PlanetHS, so we have a uniform way to quantify participation levels.
Lastly, our athletic trainers used to manually input each athlete into their trainer software programs. This was extremely time-consuming and error-filled. Aside from taking valuable time away from their primary task, it was almost impossible to gather accurate information with paper forms where, for example, a student might write his or her nickname while the parent offered the full name—not to mention the fact that our trainers have no knowledge of grade promotion or eligibility. As the eligibility provider for the South Carolina High School League, PlanetHS has the accurate name and grade level for every athlete, and through a direct connection to our athletic trainer software, each trainer now has an up-to-date roster of participants without any time taken away from their trainer responsibilities.
After years of painstakingly slow manual effort, we now have a comprehensive data-gathering system that covers more than 20 different sports throughout the entire middle school and high school sports program.
Conclusions About Concussions
Through our manual processes, we’ve been able to reduce injuries in baseball significantly. And we’ve just completed a study showing a decline in the severity of concussions. So we know the basics of how to define projects, collect data for analysis, and generate evidence. With the new data access capabilities via PlanetHS, our ability to look at the specifics of injury history, student scheduling, and participation in relation to the development and prevention of injuries has been significantly enhanced.
My biggest recommendation to other school leaders who want to adopt a data-driven approach to assessing, preventing, and treating student athlete injuries is to audit their current processes and work to eliminate paper. While our research team has greatly benefitted from moving much of our work online, we can only imagine the efficiency we could gain by eliminating the collation, filing, and overall management of paper.
As a result of our new capabilities, we’ve added a data scientist to our team and opened new grant opportunities. When it comes to protecting and caring for our student athletes, there is much more that can be accomplished, and with the right tools, researchers will be amazed at how fast they can accomplish it.
Darryl Nance is the director of athletics for Greenville County Schools in South Carolina.