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The ACSM blog brings you up-to-date commentary from top ACSM experts around the world.

Opinions expressed in the Sports Performance Blog are the authors’. They do not necessarily reflect positions of ACSM.

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  • Special Olympics: A Sports Medicine Perspective

    by Guest Blogger | Jul 28, 2015
    Aaron Rubin, M.D., FACSM, FAAFP, Medical Director
    Special Olympics World Games
    Los Angeles 2015

    The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Doing so gives them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

    In the 1950s and 60s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver noted how unjustly people with intellectual disabilities were treated and started a summer day camp in her backyard. The first Special Olympics Summer Games were held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago for one thousand people with intellectual disabilities. Participants came from 26 states and Canada and competed in track and field and swimming.

    In summer 2015, 7000 athletes and 3000 delegates from 177 countries will be in Los Angeles for the World Games. More than 30,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators will be attending the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world to cheer on these amazing athletes who will compete in 25 events. Although this large event creates attention, the Special Olympics movement is much more. In 2013, more than four million athletes participated in 81,000 competitions around the world. This works out to 222 games per day, or nine games per hour. Some 1.4 million free health examinations have been provided in more than 120 countries through the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program. Screenings are done in seven disciplines:

    1. Fit Feet provides podiatric screenings, including checking shoe size (many athletes compete with ill-fitting shoes) and a variety of foot problems.
    2. FUNfitness provides physical therapy evaluation for balance and flexibility, with recommendations for improvements and preventing injuries.
    3. Health Promotion teaches better health and well-being, including hand washing, sun protection, diet and hydration.
    4. Opening Eyes provides vision screening and eyeglasses when needed.
    5. Healthy Hearing screens for audiology problems and provides evaluation for hearing aids as needed.
    6. Special Smiles provides dental screenings and recommendations.
    7. MedFest performs sports physical exams.

    As medical director of the 2015 Games, I’ve experienced many challenges in putting together a medical plan for such a large multi-day event spread over a large geographic area. The medical team has to consider providing medical care for athletes at events, but with a higher number of medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and seizure disorders. We also had to give special attention to communicating with athletes with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics World Games partnered with medical groups and hospitals to provide medical expertise and oversight for the athletes and delegations during the entire course of the games. Teams are working on the medical care for athletes arriving at the Los Angeles Airport, with a welcome center medical station set up to assure that the athletes are doing well after their trips and have all medications and other needs met. The delegations spend several days at local communities called Host Towns to acclimate to and enjoy Southern California. They will then come to the Olympic Villages at UCLA and USC and have medical care available as needed in the dorms and during non-competition times. Medical teams will be available at each venue to care for minor medical issues that may arise, with sports medicine consultants available to come to the field as needed. Any condition requiring further lab or x-ray testing can be referred to a local “poly clinic” on the campuses or a local hospital clinic or emergency department.

    The goal of the medical staff at this event, as at all sporting events, is not to limit or restrict participation, but to allow and encourage safe participation. This is especially true for this population which is often looked at for their disabilities instead of their abilities. As with any such event, the hope is that the medical staff is able to take away more than they put into providing culturally appropriate, current and empathetic medical care with an increased awareness of the medical needs for this underserved population.
  • Active Voice: Football and FIFA – It’s Still a Game, Right?

    by Guest Blogger | Jul 28, 2015
    By Michael F. Bergeron, Ph.D., FACSM


    Here we go again. Another sports scandal. The soccer world (international football) has been shocked over the past several days by numerous reports of bribery and corruption in the sport’s premier governing body, The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). FIFA is an old and venerated institution, established in 1904 with a global mission of protecting the integrity, growth and financial stability of football. FIFA has become a powerful empire, reportedly worth some $2.8 billion. Ironically, and despite its self-declared responsibility to “tackle current challenges to football, such as illegal betting and bribery,” officials at the highest levels of the organization now have been accused of agreeing to accept bribes in connection with selection of the host countries for the 1998 and 2010 World Cup. For more on the latest news, see: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/05/football/fifa-corruption-scandal/index.html.

    No question, sport is big business, which makes it and those in charge vulnerable to the temptations and misguided choices that too often are characteristic in business whenever big money and individual or national prestige are involved. Even youth sports has become inappropriately and exceedingly adult- and media-centered. But youth sports is still really about the kids who play sports, with football having recognized worldwide appeal. Adult football heroes are followed and admired by the boys and girls who find it simply thrilling and fun to run up and down the field while dribbling a ball in the imagined footsteps of these great players.

    But an important concern that perhaps is lost in all the media is the impact of this disappointing conduct on the many youth athletes who are heavily invested in football and have probably viewed FIFA as a high-minded leadership group. What does a scandal like this do to the children and adolescents who see football as the game they love? What is the unintended message and resulting consequence? Sadly, this demonstrated “leadership” distracts from, even deprecates, the core purpose of sport which is to promote healthy play, enjoyment, development, fitness, socialization and the dignity of ethical conduct.

    So we’ll do what responsible adults – parents, coaches, teachers and others who care about our children and the sports they love – always do. We’ll use this scandal as a lesson and a timely opportunity to emphasize that football (like all sports) is still a great game where commitment, hard work, character and respect are the tenants of success at any level of play. The IOC has made a commitment to re-emphasize healthy youth athlete development by critically evaluating the current state of youth sports and providing specific recommendations for developing healthy, resilient and capable youth athletes. This international consensus (available next month) comprises an emphasis on the whole athlete in developing character. This encompasses commitment and respect to self, other athletes, the community and the game, while providing opportunities for all levels of sport participation and success. The IOC further challenges all youth and other sport governing bodies to embrace and implement these guiding principles. The National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute and the newly formed Youth Sports of the Americas enthusiastically support the IOC’s commitment to the positive values of sports and healthy youth athlete development.

    We have the obligation to, once again, save a sport, at least in the minds of those who matter the most: our children. They are watching, and counting on us.


    Viewpoints presented on the Active Voice blog reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

    Michael F. Bergeron, Ph.D., FACSM, is president and CEO of Youth Sports of the Americas, Birmingham, Ala., as well as executive director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute. He is a past trustee of ACSM and currently a member of the Medical Advisory Committee for Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. that provides youth football and cheer and dance programs with an emphasis on maintaining academic standards. Dr. Bergeron also serves on the academic advisory board for the International Olympic Committee’s postgraduate diploma program in sports medicine, and he recently co-chaired the IOC Consensus Meeting on youth athletic development which will be highlighted in a special edition of the
    British Journal of Sports Medicine in July 2015.

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