The relationship between an athlete, a coach, an athletic trainer, and a parent can be a complicated one. When that communication falls apart, the results can be life changing, and a solution can seem impossible to find.
That is until now. One man in Texas thinks he may have the answer to fixing miscommunication issues out on the field, and it's one that some local parents hope might be the answer they've been looking for.
"It's one of them deals you wouldn't wish on anybody,” says Buck Back.
“They say that will never happen to our kid, and then it happens to your kid or it happens to somebody you know and it opens your eyes,” says Shannon Back. “And that's all we're hoping for is that it opens somebody's eyes, that somebody's listening."
Robert Back was injured while playing high school football in 2014. That injury left him a quadriplegic, and led to years of legal back and forth. Part of the debate focused on who actually cleared Robert to play in the first place, and how that was communicated to all parties.
In the end, a jury ruled against the Backs, finding no negligence on the part of Benefis Health System. The Belt School District settled.
But even though legal proceedings may be over, the question remains: who does send your child back to play after an injury? The coach? The parent? Or the athletic trainer?
"The gaps are in oversight, the gaps are in documentation, and the gaps are in communication."
Enter Steven Horwitz, founder of TeamSafe Sports. After spending over 30 years in the medical field, with a number of those spent on the sidelines of youth sports, Horwitz says it's easy to see where these gaps arise.
"So sitting in front of coaches for 25 years, I get it, coaches just wanna coach."
But Horwitz says it's not just about the coaches. Parents and medical providers also play a huge role… only, they're usually on different stages.
That's where Horwitz's latest project, TeamSafe Sports, comes in.
It's an app that provides a full roster of a team's athletes, and gives detailed information about each one's medical status at any given time.
Using TeamSafe is simple… once the coaches and app administrators set up an account, all parents have to do is download the app and fill out their child's information, including emergency contacts, previous injuries, and any current medical conditions.
So that when something happens out on the field, you just pull up the app, remove the child from play, and immediately everyone receives a text message with the update. Horwitz says this communication is the key to avoiding catastrophic injuries.
And for Shannon and Buck Back, anything that could help prevent another horrible situation like Robert's is worth giving a shot.
"If that app was implemented and they were forced to follow that app, then yeah, yeah I think things would have been different, you know to our knowledge he wasn't supposed to be playing at all or practicing and he wasn't until the night of the game, so yeah it would have helped,” Buck says.
While there's no way to know how things could have turned out, Horwitz and the Backs believe had TeamSafe been around during Robert's injury, things may have ended differently.
"You really can't rely on your coaches and your schools and your doctors... between that app and what happened to Robert, maybe it will open people’s eyes, and maybe it will prevent it from happening again. That's the main thing right there."
So… who does clear your child to play after an injury? According to the Montana High School Association, any athlete who is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury may not return to play until they have received a written clearance from a licensed health care provider.
When asked if MHSA would ever consider using the TeamSafe Sports app, they responded by stating they will continue to follow nationwide safe and best practices for return to play protocol.
TeamSafe is available for download right now. A high school association in Florida is currently using it across their schools in a pilot program, and a university-based research project is being conducted to see how far the app's uses can go.