Do Universities Do Enough For Ultimate And Other Club Sports?

I received an email yesterday from Stuart Hean of Haverford ultimate with an attached letter he submitted to his university’s club sports coordinator. In it, he calls for the school to give ultimate (and other club sports) access to athletic trainers, which are reserved for varsity sports at his school. Is this a systemic problem?

Club sports, almost by definition, aren’t going to have the same kinds of benefits as varsity ones, though the level of support the school provides varies widely by university. Should trainer access be a basic benefit for every university affiliated sports team?

Read Hean’s letter below and let us know what you think in the comments.

***

The following message is a letter drafted by the captains of the Men’s and Women’s teams of Haverford College Ultimate to their administration following a season filled with untimely injuries.

I wanted to follow up my response summarizing Men’s Ultimate spring season that I sent to our coordinator of club sports last week with a more personal take on my experience with club sports over the past four years. This letter has been viewed and edited by the captains of both the men’s and women’s teams.

The Donkeys went in to Regionals missing their top 9-12 players (including 3 out of 4 captains) due to injury. This year we saw injuries including but not limited to a torn ACL, a sprained back, a broken wrist, pulled hamstrings, sprained knees, turned ankles and concussions. In light of such a physically defeating season, it continues to be immensely frustrating that club sport athletes are denied care equivalent to that of athletes in varsity programs. When faced with injuries my teammates have to either go home to see their doctors or to the emergency room in order to receive expert advice and treatment. It is also frustrating that in addition to providing our own medical care we are expected to provide our own transportation to competition, our own training programs for our captains, and that we are funded through the student activities office instead of the athletic department. We all pay the same tuition, yet varsity athletes receive significantly more attention from the administration than club sports participants. Our first and most immediate complaint lies in the domain of injury prevention and diagnosis.

Men’s and Women’s Ultimate practice 5 days a week and play ~30 games a semester. We lift and condition in the off-season, and some of us play year round. The women’s team is a perennial contender for the national title and the men work every year to improve their performance on a regional level. I am definitely speaking out of personal bias but I believe that my male co-captains and teammates, and friends on the women’s team work harder and put more into learning their sport and advancing their teams than the athletes and captains in some varsity programs. The workload associated with the responsibility of leading a team is multiplied by a lack of administrative support.

The captains of the Donkeys and Sneetches have worked for years to fill the basic roles explicit in the title of club sport captain and do so with enthusiasm, out of love for their teams. However, captains are responsible for filling roles far beyond our training or time commitment. For example, we don’t have full time coaches, trainers or team managers, which are vital aspects of any well-functioning sports organization. Our captains work to fill each of these roles as best they can with relatively limited time and resources. Despite a lack of formal training, our captains and more experienced teammates can adequately describe how to go through the rotator cuff circuit, improve knee tracking and running form, and explain a number of exercises related to joint protection and injury prevention in general. We enjoy gaining and spreading this knowledge but we are not medical students or physical therapists. Regarding our capacity to address injuries, there is a notable gap between time of injury and time of diagnosis and treatment that we are not qualified to fill.

We do our best to encourage and teach self-taught corrective and preventative exercises for injury; we also do our best to address injuries when they occur. We have taught ourselves and our teammates how to wrap sports tape and ace bandages, adjust crutches (several pairs of which we have in supply), identify dislocations, bone breaks and muscle strains, among other ailments. This season I learned what a makeshift splint for a broken wrist looks like, I learned that you shouldn’t stretch a pulled hamstring, and that concussion symptoms sometimes don’t manifest for several hours. We have acquired a base of hands-on knowledge that has enabled us to distinguish between non-emergent and emergent situations and to act appropriately in the case of the latter. However, we are seriously under qualified to be first responders or consultants in the injury situations that arise through participation in this sport, especially in the case of concussions.

We don’t expect SAO or the athletics department to pay for us to have a coach, a locker room, equipment, level fields or recruitment programs but we do hope that the administration will act to at the very least begin providing basic physical care and consultation for club sport athletes facing injuries. It would be immensely helpful for our teammates to have access to the trainers twice a week, and to have access to concussion related training (knowing how to identify and test for obvious symptoms). We acknowledge that extending this care to Ultimate will likely seem a stretch due to staff shortages and facility constraints but the current state of our abilities as captains and club sport athletes to address and prevent injuries cannot adequately meet the given situational requirements that arise on a regular basis.

We request that measures be taken to give club sport athletes access to athletic training and injury consultation. We believe that club sports have been underserved by Haverford athletics and that this is doing a disservice to our community. We represent the college locally, regionally and nationally, thereby promoting awareness and encouraging interest in Haverford, yet we receive no physical care for our athletes.

In order to ensure the highest level of competition and the safety and well-being of our teams we need to solve this problem. It has been an immensely rewarding experience to serve our teams in the capacity of captains and the lessons we’ve taken from this opportunity are immeasurable. However, the issues addressed above are what we see through experience as the biggest obstacles to effective leadership and team efficacy that our teams face.

Thank you for reading, the current and future leadership of Men’s and Women’s Ultimate hope to be in further conversation about this issue.

Sincerely,
Stuart Hean

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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