Beginning with the 2019-20 season, a new volunteer role – Player Safety Coordinator – will be added to each of USA Hockey’s 12 Districts. This is a positive step toward ensuring player safety that will benefit every athlete, parent, coach, official and administrator.
Last season, the Pacific District conducted a Player Safety Coordinator pilot program as a test run. USA Hockey spoke with Pacific District Director Steve Laing and Pacific District Player Safety Coordinator Jaime Campbell to share their experience and insight on this new initiative.
Q: The Pacific District piloted the Player Safety Coordinator position for USA Hockey. Why?
Laing: The Pacific District Board is focused on continuous improvement in many areas, and player safety is one of them. I’ve been involved in safety-related programs and initiatives for USA Hockey for many years, including SafeSport, concussion protocol, the head contact rule, body-checking discussions, cross- and half-ice hockey, etc. As the first District with a mandatory concussion protocol (implemented in 2016), it was a natural fit for us to support and sponsor this important work.
Campbell: As Steve said, it was a natural fit. From 2011 to 2018, Steve tasked a small group of California’s leaders to develop and implement the first affiliate-wide concussion protocol within USA Hockey. I’ve managed that effort since 2013. When the Pacific District Board expressed interest in adopting that protocol in all of their affiliates, I was honored to be asked to manage it. We began collaborating with Kevin Margarucci, manager of player safety at USA Hockey, and that partnership led to the development of this pilot program.
Q: Why is the focus on player safety so important?
Laing: As program administrators and leaders, it is our duty first and foremost to be concerned about the safety of our athletes. Whether that is the size of the ice, the length of the period, the protective equipment or the way the game is played, there is always an opportunity to make the experience safer for the athlete without compromising the integrity of the game or the level of competition.
Campbell: We’ve seen it with concussions. As data becomes more readily available and the public focuses on an injury or condition, doing something about it – to acknowledge it, treat it, manage it, hopefully prevent it – becomes the responsibility of those who have the resources to do so. We know so much more today than we did even 10 years ago about player safety in general, and so it becomes our responsibility to proactively find ways to make this sport safer for the athletes to confidently participate in it and develop safely and successfully.
Q: This is a brand-new program. How did you decide where to start?
Campbell: The concussion program was a great way to test the waters with this position. The content was developed and tested, it was timely, it was legislative in every affiliate, and it was a priority for USA Hockey. We developed an entire library of educational resources for each state affiliate and provided training in person and via conference/video calls. In this first effort, it was important that we not create a huge need for labor at the affiliate level – this program literally required no dedicated volunteer hours by the affiliate and that was important.
Laing: It was important that we start with something important to everyone, and that was the topic of concussions. This was also a great way to continue to develop the District’s relationship with USA Hockey and specifically the Safety and Protective Equipment Committee (SPEC) with Dr. Stuart, Dr. Ashare and the others whose primary focus is player safety in our sport. We successfully rolled out concussion protocol across four additional states in the 2017-2018 season, and that comprised the bulk of the work the first year.
Q: What other projects did you take on during the pilot program?
Campbell: Starting midway through the first year, the SPEC committee asked us to vet injury reporting and data collection technology (athlete injury management programs). We evaluated three top vendors in the industry and successfully completed a pilot program with Players Health in the Nevada affiliate. This project gave USA Hockey greater insight into the opportunities and challenges of committing to a data collection platform – is it easy to use? Who is the actual user? What data do we actually need to collect? Is it fast? Is it secure? Is it HIPAA compliant? Is it flexible? Those and many other questions need to be answered successfully before committing to new technology. In the second year we primarily worked with USA Hockey and the SPEC committee to develop the Player Safety Coordinator position, including an implementation plan from the District level to the member program level over three-to-five years.
Laing: I think the most important takeaway from the Players Health pilot program was just how important collecting our own, sport-specific, athlete-specific data is — to the athlete, the parent, the member program, the state affiliate, the District and ultimately to USA Hockey. There was value in it to every single participant, and that knowledge is hugely beneficial. My hope is that the SPEC committee will continue its focus on finding the right technology for USA Hockey, and the Pacific District would be happy to pilot another vendor in the future. The importance of this work is what led the Pacific District to commit to year two of the pilot program so that we could be instrumental in developing the Player Safety Coordinator position with USA Hockey.
Q: The Player Safety Coordinator position was approved by the USA Hockey Board of Directors in June 2019. Now that it’s official, what will you focus on this coming season in the Pacific District?
Laing: As a District we were thrilled that USA Hockey saw the value in the program and recognized the need for this role, which is primarily a distribution conduit for USA Hockey to communicate and implement its safety-related programming down to the grassroots levels – from the national office to the District, to the state affiliate, to the member programs. While we implemented our own concussion protocol two years ago, we will now adjust and implement the USA Hockey concussion protocol, which has since been developed. We will also continue to work closely with the national office as they continue to develop this role.
Campbell: In addition to implementing the USA Hockey concussion program, we will also roll out a new program I developed over the summer focusing on concussions solely in our female athletes – female and male athletes experience and recover from concussions very differently, and the education to the female athlete deserves our focus. I also look forward to serving as a resource for USA Hockey as they continue to name other PSC’s throughout the Districts. We are ahead of the game in the Pacific District, so I also feel like I can be strategic, and continue to come up with at least one new safety-focused initiative to trial every year. It’s a great opportunity to impact our athletes and our sport in a positive way.
About Steve Laing: A director with USA Hockey’s Pacific District, Steve Laing is also involved with USA Hockey’s Legal Council, SafeSport, High School Section, and Youth National Tournaments.
About Jaime Campbell: Jaime Campbell is the player safety and concussion representative for USA Hockey’s Pacific District. Campbell is also a seven-year director for the California Amateur Hockey Association, serving as director of member services, administrator of the background and screening compliance program, and has been the SafeSport coordinator for both northern and southern California.