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The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework | Part 6: Creating a New Normal—Sustaining Cultural Change—Programming to ensure the New Normal remains

This is part five in a six-part series focused on returning to sport. For Part 1 of our six-part series, find The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework | Part 1: Creating a New Normal—Facilitating a Change in Culture document here and Part 2, Creating a New Normal - Facility Preparation and Management, Medical Facilities and Campus Facilities herePart 3 & 4: Creating a New Normal—Personnel Development and Training, Programming and Education here,  and Part 5: Creating a New Normal -- Training and Practice Modifications here

Category 6:   Sustaining Cultural Change—Programming to ensure the New Normal remains

The heavy lifting is about to begin. Over the past three months you have been daily guiding and leading your athletic programs and personnel—your student athletes, coaches, staff, and athletic healthcare personnel—trying to bring certainty in uncertain times. Daily you made decisions in the moment that dramatically altered the normalcy of collegiate athletics.

Incredibly difficult decisions were required. These decisions ended seasons, ended careers, and in some cases brought about the termination of programming and personnel. As your partner, the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health provided you tools and guidance to help your institution face the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic created.  We were there with you as your partner in this journey and helped you prepare for the worst while we continued to hope for the best.

The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework established six categories to ensure you a have a plan, a roadmap to follow, once campuses are opened for the return of students and staff and a return to sport participation. These six categories helped you frame and reframe your organization—to look at athlete healthcare and safety with a different lens.

The focus of our reframing remains an unwavering institutional commitment to personnel and programming. Ours is a shared goal, a shared journey: we want to ensure the return to participation and training takes place in a healthy and safe environment. In the simplest sense, we want a safe return to sport participation and the sustainability of cultural change.

As a reminder, the six categories of the USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework is provided below. 

Category 1: Return to Campus Protocols—Healthcare Staff, Student Athletes, Coaches and Staff

Category 2: Facility Preparation and Management—Medical Facilities and Campus Facilities

Category 3: Personnel Development and Training—Healthcare Personnel, Coaches and Staff

Category 4: Programming and Education—Healthcare Personnel, Students, Coaches and Staff

Category 5: Training and Practice Modifications—General and Sport Specific

Category 6: Sustaining Cultural Change—Programming to ensure the New Normal remains

Additionally, we provided you with questions to be asked and answered daily as we return to sport participation. Together we prepared for this day, a return to sport participation, by introducing and discussing concepts and categories and we asked you to seek answers in areas you were never before immersed. Through all of this we have asked the same questions. 

  • How can we slow the spread?
  • How do we ensure we have a safe home, safe environment, and a safe campus?
  • How soon can we resume sport participation?
  • Have we invested in our healthcare professionals, coaches, and staff to ensure they are prepared for a return of student athletes to campus?

Additionally, as your partner on this journey we helped you establish the single most important element of our Return to Sport Participation Framework—the formation of your Athletics COVID-19 Action Team. With this team your daily approach to safe training and practice now centers on ensuring the daily answer for each of the five questions above is an unequivocal “Yes”.

Yes, the heavy lifting is about to begin. Athletes, coaches, staff, and athletic healthcare personnel are back on campus. Life as we knew it no longer exists. Life as we know it now, changes every day. Daily, you will continue to make difficult decisions that will dramatically alter the new normal that is collegiate athletics. Decisions moving forward will positively impact seasons, establish careers, and create new personnel and programming opportunities. We were and are prepared for the worst and now we plan and prepare for the best.

States are lifting restrictions and colleges and universities are welcoming back their student athletes, coaches, staff, and athletic healthcare personnel. Ramping down was easy, and by comparison, reopening is significantly more complicated. Reopening campuses and training facilities is really about choices in three key areas: Contact, Confinement and Crowds.  Beyond reopening, the next set of choices and challenges are even more challenging—creating sustained cultural change.

Without question, the difficult path to travel next is creating sustained cultural change. The good news—you have already started this journey. With the introduction to and implementation of the USCAH guidelines and checklists for a safe return to sport participation you have started to build the foundation of sustained cultural change.

The cornerstone of reframing culture remains an unwavering institutional commitment to personnel and programming. Ours is a shared goal, a shared journey: we want to ensure the return to participation, training, and eventually takes place in a healthy and safe environment. We want confirmation that we developed and implemented education and programming for our healthcare professionals, students, coaches, and staff to ensure the return to sport participation will be safe.  We want a safe return to sport participation and the sustainability of cultural change.

Creating sustained cultural change is hard work and requires a commitment from the entire institution. Your ability to create effective change is really about understanding leadership, theory and action, and ultimately creating planned change and distributed leadership. The USCAH model for sustained cultural change is a people-centric change model that provides transformational leadership driven systemic change. 

Change requires a commitment from the school and school community to create capacity building and in turn evolve the culture. Leadership is really about vision, and vision is the ability to see a desired change come to fruition.  Sustained leadership, with a multi-framed lens, is inherent to accomplishing the task of meeting the leadership needs of the institution—in this case a university or college. 

Institutions must review the way in which they are structured. Leaders must review the way in which they lead and the methods used to impart change. Leadership is about energizing other people to make good decisions and do other things. Effective leadership inspires more than empowers, it connects more than controls, it demonstrates more than it decides. Effective leaders are truly change agents.

Category 6 of the USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework reframes leadership to assist institutions with the programming necessary to facilitate sustained cultural change. Creating cultural change is really about making the right choices. To change culture, we must change the choices. To change the choices, we must change the narrative of our programs and people. To change the narrative, we must change our core values. To change our core values, we must redefine what is truly important. And, what is truly important, is ensuring the health and safety of our student athletes, coaches, staff, and athletic healthcare personnel.

The key concepts and steps for Category 6—Sustained Cultural Change are identified below.

  • Reframing Concepts and Definitions
  • Establishing a Leadership Council
  • Review Change Model Frames
  • Create Leadership Driven Systemic Change Theory and Action
  • Implementing a Change Framework
  • Evaluation and Assessment

The heavy lifting of creating sustained cultural change has begun. A focus in the six concepts above will help remove the burden and lighten the load.  Partnering with USCAH will ensure culture change is positive, impactful and sustained. With the introduction to and implementation of the USCAH guidelines and checklists for a safe return to sport participation you have started to build the foundation of sustained cultural change

Over the past three months our game has changed. Over the past three months our programs have changed. Over the past three months our personnel have changed.  Collegiate athletics for the present and near future are changed—perhaps forever changed. Now moving forward, we are witnessing and participating in moments of time that do not just change the outcome of a contest these moments change the courses our programs will forever travel. As a Change Agent you can guarantee the success and sustainability of healthy and safe participation in our college and university athletic programs.

The experts at the U.S. Council for Athletes Health have included a comprehensive checklist to provide guidance for:

The USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework | Category 6: Sustaining Cultural Change - Programming to ensure the New Normal remains

For additional resources within the USCAH Return to Sport Health and Safety Framework six-part series, find them here:

For more information, check out our Return to Sport Considerations for College & University Intercollegiate Athletics article here.

For additional information and programming to ensure your institution is prepared for a return to campus and a return to sport contact and collaborate with USCAH.

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