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The Best of Both Worlds

Wrestling becomes latest sport to bring together coaches and medical experts to discuss big issues

As Mike Moyer looked around a conference room at the NCAA national office in July, the group gathered before him was unlike any the executive director for the National Wrestling Coaches Association had seen during his 15 years in the organization.

There were coaches he has often worked with. But they were sitting next to athletic trainers, medical researchers and physicians, joining one another for the NCAA Wrestling Summit, organized by the NCAA Sport Science Institute, to find answers to some of the health and safety questions facing the sport.

Moyer recognized the significance. The sport has faced health and safety challenges for years, such as weight cutting and skin infections. But getting coaches and medical experts to see one another’s perspectives has proven challenging. Now here they were, gathered in a quest to find answers.

“This is the first time since I’ve been executive director that we’ve ever had a collection of experts like this,” Moyer said. “But there’s still more of a journey ahead of us.”

Summits like this one are aimed at speeding that journey by combining the expertise and passion of the medical and coaching communities and finding common ground from which to build.

Gatherings to discuss issues facing sports are not exactly new – the Sport Science Institute has previously organized task forces to explore broad health topics such as mental health, concussion and cardiac issues. But for more ambitious goals, such as addressing early specialization in youth sports, overuse injuries and proper rest and recovery periods, NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline decided a more sport-specific format was necessary.

“Ultimately, I think that’s going to be the most effective way to obtain consensus on how to change the model of sport in our society,” Hainline said. “In a single summit, you can’t address early specialization overuse injuries, periodization and rules that impact health and safety for all sports (at one time). The only way I could really come to think of addressing overuse injury and early sport specialization was sport by sport.”

The summits present a fresh, inclusive approach to addressing health and safety issues. Within the NCAA, such issues previously could be addressed only in committees that were separately composed of coaches and medical experts. So finding common ground on issues that affected practice procedures and playing rules, for example, could come slowly and, at times, become emotionally charged.

But during the wrestling summit, physicians and athletic trainers successfully lobbied for a rules interpretation that, starting this season, will allow for changes to situations in which a competing wrestler is injured. The changes include unlimited injury time to assess a wrestler for concussion, as well as the ability to remove the wrestler from the competition venue to perform a concussion examination.

And the work is ongoing. The soccer summit formed five teams to examine issues such as concussion prevention and the college season’s structure. Similarly, the wrestling summit formed teams to look at weight management, nutrition, playing rules and skin infections. Those groups are expected to bring recommendations back to the summit participants over the next several months, which could lead to recommended guidelines and best practices that will inform health and safety decisions within the NCAA governance system and organizations at other levels of the sports.

Hainline’s broad agenda is to hold summits for each NCAA sport – an ambitious long-term goal that he hopes will shift the culture so that health and safety is foundational. Participants left the first two convinced they were on the road to that goal.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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