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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘A lot of work to be done’: Saal outlines improvements to be made to student-athlete health services

Mia Hennen
Director of Athletics Kevin Saal shows “The Shocker Way” document, which the athletics department uses to achieve its mission, at a press confrence on Aug. 15. The Shocker Way outlines three components: core values, student athletic experience, and competitve excellence.

In response to a request by the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), Director of Athletics Kevin Saal shared the athletic department’s strategic five-year plan to enhance and establish new health-based services for student-athletes, such as improvements to staffing, emergency protocols and nutrition care.

Last year, KBOR published a list of recommended student-athlete health care initiatives with unique requests for each Kansas university. Athletic directors from Kansas State University, the University of Kansas and Wichita State University gave presentations on Sept. 20 regarding their school’s future student-athlete health-based initiatives.

“Our mission at Wichita State is to develop young people and programs the ‘Shocker Way’ through first-class service to our student-athletes,” Saal said. “So obviously this (KBOR student-athlete based health services) aligns very much with what we do and what we believe in ‘the Shocker way.’”

Saal’s five-year strategic objectives included human resource and staffing improvements, updates to policy and procedure, and updated standards and practices to better supplement WSU’s 250 student-athletes. 

Human resources and staffing

Recent additions to the sports medicine unit at Wichita State include a new certified athletic trainer for track and field and cross country, a patient care coordinator, and a mental health and performance counselor. To enhance the student-athlete quality of care, Saal hopes to soon replace three graduate assistants with full-time employees and add a sports nutritionist or dietitian to the health care staff roster to optimize the Shocker Health and Performance Unit.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Saal said. “We are in the process right now of completely reorganizing, really, our sports medicine.”

Additionally, there are plans to establish an associate or senior associate administrator for health and performance and a certified athletic trainer for baseball.

Policy and procedures

Improving medical emergency protocols and enhancing policy education are also on Saal’s agenda. Updates to Shocker Athletics policy and procedures include re-evaluating care for student-athletes experiencing or at risk of experiencing heat illness and heat stroke, asthma, diabetic emergencies, collapses associated with the sickle cell trait and exertional and non-exertional collapses.

“Some of those elements have really need(ed) to be updated for us or created for us,” Saal said. “We all (universities) have them (medical occurrence policies), and it’s the discipline to get them out every single year, to make sure that they’re updated, to make sure that Ascension Via Christi approves those and that we socialize those with all of our constituents.”

Standards and practices

With the guidance of Ascension Via Christi, Saal hopes to adapt and incorporate new standard practices, like soft-tissue manipulation and alternative treatment methods, to be provided to student-athletes. To do so, the Shocker Health and Performance staff have established weekly meetings to “maximize the synergy throughout Shocker Health.” 

Along with formalizing the framework to process student athlete anonymous data, Saal plans to improve monthly sports program support meetings and install daily readiness surveys.

WSU’s contract with its current electronic medical record system, SportsWare, expires in February, and Saal said he and the rest of the Shocker Athletics department want to identify the best new option by November or December. 

Investments in student-athlete nutrition are also being explored. According to Saal, steps have been taken to expand the current student-athlete snack services to include weekly meals and to provide coordinated care for student-athletes struggling with eating disorders, injuries, body weight goals and more.

Saal said that the KBOR requests facility improvements to equipment, budget and consistency are being achieved through the Cessna Stadium renovations, which will include space for a new training room and a “suite” for the Shocker Health and Performance team. 

“We’ve got to supplement some areas in our budget,” Saal said. “So we are doing a deep dive audit and a dashboard with our athletic training rooms all over campus to make sure we understand what it is that we’re missing from a modality perspective, or equipment or resources, and make that consistent across the board.”

Saal’s “key to any successful programming and improvement” is the continuity and sustainability of compliance and education. He expects enhancements to be made in developing emergency action plans (like CPR and AED training), enhanced health care programming through mental health, nutrition and performance and behavioral science and a “culture of accountability” through punishment, or extra conditioning, workouts –and clearly defined disciplinary expectations.

“We certainly have some areas that we’ve summarized that we need to get better,” Saal said. “I think that there’s some areas that we’re doing well in terms of the resources that we have as well.”

Saal said improvements will continue to adapt to the needs of student-athletes and the university, and KBOR will be updated with the latest developments as they are rolled out over the next five years.

“There’s no finish line on this developmental pathway for us,” Saal said. “We will continue to pursue excellence in all those areas.”

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About the Contributors
Allison Campbell, News Editor
Allison Campbell is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. Campbell is a junior pursuing a journalism and media production degree with a minor in English. Campbell hopes to pursue a career in writing or editing after graduation. They use any pronouns.
Mia Hennen, Editor in Chief
Mia Hennen is the current editor in chief for The Sunflower. Before becoming editor, Hennen was the news/managing editor. They are a junior at Wichita State majoring in English and minoring in communications and Spanish, hoping to pursue any career involving writing or editing. Hennen uses they/them pronouns.

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