Last month, a Responsible Sports Parent wrote to our panel of experts to ask: "The team mom/parent of a player states through an email her son won’t attend the soccer game due to his bronchitis. The following practice the player shows up and I the coach ask if he is still sick, the player stated to me a little, I am still on antibiotics and can’t run. As a coach what should I do?"
Ken, a concerned coach.
We asked two of our experts to weigh in. San Snow Director of Coaching at US Youth Soccer had this to say:
"The foremost obligation of any team coach is the wellbeing of the players. So, for the sake of the ill player and the rest of the team too, the player in question should remain at home until fully recovered. This is not an injury from which he is recovering, but an illness. That illness could be contagious, so the coach must not put the rest of the team at risk of catching bronchitis.
On the one hand, it is praiseworthy that the player wants to attend training even though he might not be ready to participate. He is being supportive of the team. That is a good attitude for a coach to reinforce. However, the desire is misplaced in this instance. First, the player should remain at rest until fully recovered. Second, he should not put anyone on the team at risk of catching his illness.
Too often though, whether it is an illness or an injury, players come back to training and matches too soon. Returning to training before full recovery means inefficient training and the likelihood of injury. If a player has been injured severely enough or was ill enough to see a physician then the coach MUST have a written release from the doctor. Once the player is back to the team he must not play in a match until the coach feels the player is 100 percent ready to play. This means the coach must first have the player go through training sessions to evaluate his rehabilitation. The coach can control the strenuousness and amount of contact in a training session, but does not have that control over a match. It is very important that a player eases back into full action gradually after illness or injury.
Sometimes the player and/or the parents will push to soon to have the player back in training and matches. Do not succumb to that pressure. Club administrators must support the decision of the coaching staff to put the player back into match play at the right time. If a player is not fully rehabbed then soccer participation could lead to chronic illness or injury. The adults involved in the situation must take the long-term perspective that it is better to miss a few matches, than to resume active play too soon, which could be detrimental to the player. The general rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution."
Thanks for asking a question that I’m sure has come up for many youth sports coaches. One thing a Responsible Coach can do in this situation is request a note from a doctor clearing the athlete to participate (and to what level). You noted this player was on antibiotics, which means a doctor must have prescribed them, so you’re simply asking this doctor to let you know when it’s safe for the player to participate. This shows concern not only for the player himself, but also the teammates who will be exposed to him.
If the doctor clears him to participate, but not to run, there are still plenty of other ways to involve this player at practice. Rather than simply sitting him on the sidelines to watch, you could have him feed balls into drills, officiate, set up cones, time drills, etc. He can still benefit from the coaching at practice, even if he is not running.
Reading into the fine print of your question, if you’re faced with this at practice, and there is not time to get a doctor’s note, I’d call the player’s parents and ask if their child was cleared by the doctor to be at practice. If the answer is "no," then I’d ask the parents to come get him. It’s not easy to be the "heavy" on this sort of thing, but it really is putting the health and safety of all of your players first.