Managing Sports and Type 1 Diabetes

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • In my September 7 post, I took a look at the complexity of managing Type 1 diabetes and exercise and sports, which boiled down primarily to physiology and nutrition. Yet through my discussions with various experts, I found that there are several additional dimensions to diabetes management and sports beyond the physiology component - first and foremost managing the people surrounding the sport and the player.

    Coaches and Trainers
    To start with, I'd wanted to get some input on those that lead the teams and can, in many instances, make or break an athlete's career: the coach. How can an athlete along with his parents approach the coach or coaching staff in regards to managing diabetes on and off the field.

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    The consensus seemed to be that parents and players do not need to give coaches every morsel of information on diabetes possible, which I plead guilty as charged. Coaches should be told of the athlete's condition, yet should know the basics and know enough to keep the player safe.

    According to Gary Scheiner, CDE and Founder of Integrated Diabetes Services and author of Think Like a Pancreas, coaches should focus on the crisis management in the event of extreme issues, like if a player is hypoglycemic or ketotic, whereas the more routine blood sugar management is usually left to the player and his or her parents. 

    Rick Philbin, a board member of DESA, the Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association includes the thought that "70% of the people managing diabetes with the athlete is the mom - which is not a bad thing." Philbin also recommends to "feed coaches information about diabetes little by little so they're not overwhelmed."

    Ryan de Groff, a Type 1 and a panelist on the CWD's Sports Central, has played three organized sports throughout his career, says that his mother helped with the communication portion and talked to the coaches on his behalf, but once he hit the age of thirteen, de Groff then "did what I needed to do," in terms of managing his diabetes and treating lows and highs. Coaches overall understood that if he needed to leave the field to get a Gatorade or test his blood, they then allowed him to do so.

    Similarly, diabetes-related issues often fall to the second line of support to the coaches: the trainers on the team. Trainers often become the key people assisting the athlete with diabetes management tasks when need be. DESA has reached out to local coaches and trainers. The group targets both for its quarterly regional conferences.

    There is the sticky question of whether or not coaches will play (or not play) athletes with Type 1 differently because of their condition. Again, this depends on the coach, the situation and the athlete. Although Ryan deGroff found that he was not treated differently because of Diabetes, he has spoken to other young athletes who have felt otherwise. Says deGroff, "[This] shouldn't happen. Coaches and trainers both need to know that diabetes shouldn't impact a player's potential."

    Teammates, Parents
    Beyond dealing with coaches, a player with Type 1 often wrestles with the question of whether or not to tell their fellow teammates. Again, my initial thought on how to address this issue was wrong and would be to let everyone know about my child's condition for safety reasons: if my son would need help due to, let's say, a hypoglycemic low, then I'd think that the more people knew the better.

  • This is not necessarily true. According to Ryan deGroff, a player should confide in and trust a few close friends about his or her condition. Says deGroff, "Teammate needs to know less than coaches, but I made sure I had certain kids around me that could I could trust and that could help me if I needed it. I had an incident where I was low in a football game, but I was unresponsive. Two of my teammates who know me and of my Diabetes called a time out and got me off the field."

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    With a little bit of knowledge sometimes comes questions that an athlete with Type 1 simply does not want to address. deGroff laughs as he relays the story of one of his teammates in college asking if he [the player] could get Type 1 from sharing a cup with DeGroff.

    Lastly, there is the wild card of player's parents and how they may react to their child having a teammate with Type 1. For the most part, according to deGroff, he didn't feel that his condition was an issue. "However," he says, "a parent may have problems she thinks that a child with Type 1 is getting more playing time because of his condition or push as to why the Type 1 came off of the field." Yet once athletes reach high school, parents are less of influence.

Published On: September 20, 2010