As a sports and exercise medicine doctor, I follow a simple rule. If patients come into my consultation room walking, they deserve to go out walking. Their getting better is a bonus. If they are worse off after my intervention, I need to reconsider my approach and possibly even look for a change of profession. The same applies to the camps that are mushrooming all over.
Good intentions go only so far
Yes, summer camp season is here again. Not just kids but adults, too, are signing up. It’s the “18 till I die” season. But are we really getting what we were promised?
The old adage “It’s safer to have an intelligent enemy than a stupid friend” holds true here. What I am getting at is that even if camp organizers and trainers (whether it’s running, football, cricket or anything else) have good intentions, it’s just not enough. Good intentions need to be backed up—they need to be very well-informed, and then deliver on that information. If they find that too tedious, they need to rethink their business model.
Danger lurks in the details
Though camp instructors know what is required, often there is something small but crucial lacking. I remember an incident where an ambulance was placed at the campsite but when it was needed, people had to push it to get it to start. Ambulances are for rapid response in an emergency, not just to advertise safety. On another occasion, when we had a critically ill patient in the ambulance, the event organizers told us we couldn’t take the short cut that should have been our route because the finish point for the runners lay that way. We took the long route and wasted crucial minutes—the patient had no pulse and the ambulance had to travel an extra kilometre in bad traffic. All this when the knowhow and will to execute were there.
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Last August, a popular US high school football coach was charged with reckless homicide after a 15-year old who had joined a summer camp collapsed at practice and died. Witnesses said the coach denied the teen water and his body reached a very high temperature internally (42 degree Celsius). Does that remind you of your school coach?
Some coaches could have good intentions and yet advise people to do the wrong things. As a result, they give the sport/activity in question a bad name, for no valid reason. For instance, it’s not running that is bad for your knees, it’s bad running that is bad for you.
Even if it’s not a sports camp but a regular one, you need to pay attention to the following:
• What qualifications do the event organizers have? Are they applicable to the camp in question? Don’t hesitate to actually look at the certificates they claim to have.
• How long have they been organizing such camps? We all need to start sometime, but being in experienced hands is of some comfort.
• Are the trainers competent in whatever activity they will supervise people in? It’s important to remember that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”!
• Are they passionate about what they do? Do they understand why people come to, or are sent to, these camps?
• Sports or non-sports, all camps need to have doctors or at least a nurse at the site.
• Instructors need to be trained in first aid and have first-aid kits, especially if they don’t have medical support staff. Emergency contact numbers are a must-have.
• Do they require medical certificates to be signed by a trained doctor before they take on people? (Check the doctors’ credentials as well as the organizers’.)
• If these camps are held in the wild, you should be convinced about safety, namely, the food and drink facilities.
• (For kids’ camps) What is the ratio of staff to children?
The author is a practitioner of musculoskeletal medicine and sports and exercise medicine. He is also CEO and medical director of Back 2 Fitness.
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