Coach Nick Saban directs practice for the University of Alabama football team. The team’s doctor talked today at a concussion summit in Birmingham of Saban’s concern for player saety. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com)
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – The pressure to win is no more real than in the University of Alabama football program.
Team doctor Jimmy Robinson said, though, that coach Nick Saban understands that a player’s safety has to come first.
Robinson and Alabama’s head athletic trainer Jeff Allen spoke Friday at the Cutting Edge Concussion Summit at Children’s Hospital of Alabama. The workshop is designed for coaches, administrators, athletic trainers, health professionals and parents to get a better understanding of up-to-date information on concussions and the youth athlete.
Robinson said Saban understands the risks posed by concussions, and has changed practices, drills and other procedures to keep players healthy.
“Saban realizes that many concussions happen with players hurting their own players in practice,” he said. “So, at most we have full contact practice two times a week.
“We kept hearing from other teams and conferences that programs should only have collision drills twice a week,” he added, “and we said we’ve always done that.”
The pressure to win at Alabama and various high school programs is obvious and he has seen it first-hand.
Robinson said that he has dealt many times with “coaches running up and down the field,” angry that a player couldn’t go back into a game.
“I’ve had to say, ‘He’s out, he’s done,’ and make that call with a starting quarterback in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We have crazy emotions in this game, but we have to keep player safety first.”
The key is to develop the right type of relationship between health professionals and a coach.
“Saban understands the testing we do, and even he can sit down with a player and know when he’s not right,” he said. “I have never felt pressured to get someone back in practice or a game earlier than necessary.”
“Saban realizes the danger and is so good about it,” he said.
Concern about concussions has gained in recent years, with new studies revealing both the short- and long-term effects they can have on athletes. Both state and national regulations have put more pressure on teams to keep players protected from concussions, and the NCAA and NFL continue to grapple with the issue.
In a state where college football–and winning–reigns supreme, the pressure to play at all costs is a real one.
“If you can be a doctor first and a fan second, you’ll do it right,” Robinson said.