Suffolk Legislator Kara Hahn and County Executive Steve Bellone this week announced an innovative partnership with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD) to provide athletic coaches and trainers in Suffolk County schools with training uniquely designed to combat substance abuse among student athletes. The training equips coaches with critical information on how the ongoing substance abuse epidemic impacts their players and the distinctive and vital role coaches can play in assisting at risk student athletes to get help.
The program, now available to all public schools across the County, began as a pilot in two school districts and to date more than 60 varsity and junior varsity coaches have been trained.
“It is our responsibility to explore every avenue available when it comes to protecting our young ones against substance abuse,”said County Executive Bellone. “This new program will equip our school coaches with the knowledge and tools available to recognize the signs and symptoms, and how to best intervene if needed. With a new athletic season fast approaching, there is no better time than now to launch this training countywide.”
“For many athletes, their relationship with a coach is based on respect and trust and, in many cases, it may be the most influential relationship they have with an adult,” said Legislator Hahn. “This unique place in a player’s life provides the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing and provide meaningful guidance and support. Considering this relationship, we’ve developed the course to empower these trusted advisors with the knowledge and tools to identify players who may be in danger and start a dialogue toward finding help.”
“LICADD would like to extend our gratitude to Legislator Kara Hahn for her consistent leadership in combating the substance use crisis in Suffolk County,” said Steve Chassman, Executive Director of LICADD. “The development and implementation of a ‘Coaches Training’ curriculum and training sessions for school-based athletic coaches to empower them to engage student athletes in substance use prevention is yet another dimension of support for at-risk youth in our school districts. LICADD must commend Legislator Hahn for bringing school-based and mental health professionals together to develop a student-centered program geared towards preventing adolescent substance use and the devastating progression of addiction.”
The course curriculum, which was first launched as a pilot in the fall of 2018, was developed in collaboration with Stony Brook University’s Center for Prevention and Outreach, LICADD, various athletic directors, coaches, and trainers, advocates from civic groups and Families In Support of Treatment (FIST).
The 75-minute training course was specifically developed to provide coaches with the knowledge to recognize the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse in student players and how to engage and intervene with team members suspected of substance abuse. The goal is to encourage coaches to proactively engage players believed to be using, or at risk of using, drugs and alcohol.
The idea for a training course specific to athletic coaches was conceived by Legislator Kara Hahn, who holds a graduate degree in social work. Hahn’s intern, Jessica McKay, a 2018 Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare graduate, helped to bring the course to fruition. In consultation with Lara Hunter of Stony Brook University’s Center for Prevention and Outreach and LICADD’s Executive Director Steve Chassman, Hahn developed the course curriculum in collaboration with athletic directors from Three Village, Comsewogue, and Port Jefferson School Districts, coaches and trainers from these districts and from Middle Country School District, advocates from civic groups and from Families In Support of Treatment (FIST) and presented it as a pilot during the 2018 autumn athletic season. This year LICADD will be bringing this training to schools across Suffolk County.
The training highlights:
- A coach’s role in reinforcing the importance of health on athletic performance, and emphasizing the danger of drugs and alcohol
- Foster an understanding of the risks of casual and social use of drugs and alcohol and its implications for student athletes
- Provides an overview of the nature and progression of substance abuse and trends among student athletes
LICADD has begun assertive outreach to school districts across the county. Districts interested in participating in the program can reach out to LICADD at 631-979-1700 to schedule a training session.
In addition to coaches being regarded as trusted confidants by their student athletes, coaches may also be best positioned to identify and assist injured players who are at risk of becoming addicted to the medications prescribed during the treatment of those injuries. A coach with knowledge of a player’s injury may be able to link subtle behavioral changes to a player’s treatment for those injuries better than others in the athlete’s life who may be unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms the coaches are trained to identify.
Peter Melore, Executive Director of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Health Services, Driver’s Education and Athletics for the Three Village Central School District said: “Partnering with coaches, athletic directors, LICADD and Legislator Hahn to develop a training workshop for coaches to recognize substance abuse in athletes is one of the most worthwhile projects I have ever been a part of. The Three Village coaches felt the training they received was current, relevant and could certainly make a difference in getting help for an athlete in need.“
Matteo DeVincenzo, Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics for Comsewogue School District said: “Involving coaches is an ingenious approach and I feel it will help prevent further tragedies. Input from local athletic directors and coaches is a proactive approach to help curb the epidemic we face in Suffolk County. Presenter Steven Chassman did a fantastic job while presenting to the Comsewogue Coaching Staff and I am proud to be associated with Legislator Kara Hahn’s commitment and desire to make a difference for our youth.”
Jessica McKay, contributor to the project said: “It was truly an honor to be a part of the development of the Coaches Training Program on Drugs & Alcohol. By empowering coaches to recognize the signs of drug abuse among student athletes, Legislator Hahn and her team are ensuring that this initiative is community-driven. I am certain this training will save lives and serve as a model for other jurisdictions to implement community-led solutions.”