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Youth Sports Organizations Need Bad Weather Policies

Lightning safety is critical

Fourth time's a charm

It was a hot day in late spring. My son was playing lacrosse in a neighboring town. The game started late and it was beginning to get dark. The skies were threatening, the birds were silent, and a light rain had begun to fall.

I was standing with a group of parents on the sideline. We heard thunder in the distance, and began to become concerned, as it got closer. Halftime was still ten minutes away when we spotted the first flash of lightning. "Lightning!" we all yelled. The game continued. We exchanged worried looks and voiced our concerns to each other.

Lacrosse players colliding

Then we spotted another flash. "Lightning!" We screamed even louder, hoping the referees would hear us this time. They seemed oblivious to the chorus. Incredibly, the game continued!

Finally, after the third flash, we all bellowed, "Lightning!" The referees appeared to at least say something to the coaches on the opposite sideline. We looked on in disbelief as the coaches looked at their watches, as if to say, we'll call it at the end of the half.

As parents we were furious!

Finally, a fourth flash of lightning lit the sky. I had had enough! I ran up to the coach. "I know of one thirteen-year-old boy who died by being brave," I told him. All of your players are out there holding aluminum lacrosse sticks. If any of them are hit, they could be killed! 

No sooner did I finish talking than he went straight to the referee, pointed to me, and then to the black sky. Both men then blew their whistles a number of times, signaling to the young warriors to belatedly retreat from the field of battle. As the boys charged off the field, I could tell by the fact there was no gap between the lightning and the ensuing clap of thunder that the storm was, at that moment, passing right over the field!

The rain started coming down in buckets. There was mass confusion as the parents tried to convince their son to "just leave your equipment and get in the car before you get killed!" God must have had a bemused look on her face looking down on a bunch of forty-something mothers grabbing their fourteen-year-old sons and scrambling up the hill in the pouring rain to the safety of their cars!

Have a plan in place

Chances are wherever you live the weather is probably subject to change at a moment's notice. Squalls, tornadoes, or electrical storms can occur with little warning. If your child is playing or practicing in less than ideal weather conditions, you need to be aware of the possible hazards and have a plan worked out ahead of time to avoid the kind of potentially dangerous situation that developed at the lacrosse game.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn the facts about lightning and how to prevent being hit by establishing a lightning safety policy.
  • Demand that your child's team or club establish and enforce the policy to follow at every practice and game in the event of thunder or lightning storms. 
  • Remember that thunderstorms or risk of tornado aren't the only weather hazards: a hot, sunny day that can be almost as dangerous by posing an unnecessarily high risk of heat illness, such as heat stroke, so your child's club needs to establish a policy on cancelling or modifying practices or games if the heat index is too high. 

If the club won't set a policy, suggest to the coach at the first preseason parent's meeting to agree to follow a set weather policy.

You not only need to educate your son's or daughter's coach, club and league, but your own kids need to understand the policy.

Family weather policy 

When all else fails, you need to have your own family weather policy. Not having a policy about when to call a game because of bad weather is not only foolish, it could be deadly!

I educated my sons about the dangers of playing sports during an electrical storm when they were four years old and a 13-year old neighbor in Virginia was struck by lightning and killed because he did not leave the baseball field soon enough during a thunderstorm.

If a family weather policy becomes necessary:

  • Explain in advance to your child the circumstances that will prompt you to take them off a playing field out of fear for their safety, even if their coach won't!
  • Stay calm. If you need to take them off the field, choose your words carefully so as not to insult the coach or embarrass your child.
  • Don't back down! Remember, no matter what, your child's safety is more important than any game.

Posted June 3, 2013

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