You may have noticed that hydration is an important focus for the Stallions new Safesport Coordinator, Jim Allivato. He’s seen the effects of proper hydration with athletes of all levels, and is using that knowledge to help strengthen our players. But the puck doesn’t stop at hydration. Jim is on a mission to increase the preventative mindset of our players and their families.
We recently sat down with Jim to learn more about his experiences and goals for the Stallions community with his new position.
Q: Jim, How has the hockey program at Saddle and Cycle changed since you first became involved?
Well, certainly the size of the program has changed. I started helping back in 1992 when the former director of the program was my roommate. At that time, we were a much smaller program. and really just a house league program. Since then we’ve grown to become a tier two travel hockey program.
Q: How has your involvement in the program changed since you first began?
Well, when I first became involved at Saddle, not having a family yet, my involvement was part social as I was getting to know the hockey guys in the area. Then I began to also work with different levels of hockey, helping to run hockey camps, working at the student athletic trainer for UIC’s Division 1 hockey program, and later as the head athletic trainer for the Chicago Wolves inaugural season. I obviously learned a lot from those experiences, and have been able to bring that back to our program.
For me, however, I’ve always enjoyed being involved in the coaching of kids, and now, having two players in the program, I am also involved as a parent.
Q: Speaking of which, what is it like coaching your own sons?
I think one of the things I’ve learned to do is to let them be coached by the other coaches on the ice and focus on the rest of the team. As any parent knows, giving coaching and direction to your own child is not always taken as well as you would hope. So, when I’m on the ice, I try to really focus on the rest of the team.
Q: What was it like working with a Divison 1 hockey team, and then with the Wolves as the head athletic trainer in their inaugural season (1994)?
When I was with UIC, I was studying to get my degree. As a student athletic trainer, I was able to work with UIC’s sports medicine team and take care of the players on the hockey team.
Working with the Wolves was probably one of the best times of my life being a hockey fan; being able to be a part of the excitement around a new professional team starting in Chicago. I traveled a lot that year with the Wolves playing 80 games. That was probably the most hockey games I’ve been to in a year! On a professional level, it gave me the opportunity to work with some former NHL athletes, including Al Secord, who was a Chicago Blackhawks fan favorite.
Ironically when the Wolves started the season, the NHL was on strike, so we were they only game in town. On our opening night, we had 17,000 in attendances and Wayne Messmer sang the national anthem. (For comparison, in the 2016-2017 season, the Chicago Wolves average attendance was 7,967.)
Q: As a licensed athletic trainer, you’ve been able to work with athletes of all levels. How does that perspective shape your viewpoints on sport safety and injury prevention?
Nowadays, youth athletics is really ramped up in terms of the amount of time that a lot of increasingly younger athletes are spending in their sport. I have seen some great things come from that, but also some somewhat negative things when it comes to injuries due to overutilization of muscles and joints. I’ve seen parents come in with very injured young children, and I believe that is in part due to the progression of year-round activity in a single sport.
One of my goals is to promote to our kids and parents that it is so important for to play other sports as well - not only from the injury perspective, but also to make them better athletes. Kids need an off-season, and hockey is no exception.
Q: Given the increase in single-sport focus at a younger age, are you also seeing athletes burnout earlier?
Yes. The other part of sports health that I’d like to focus on with the Stallions is the mental component. There has been some research conducted that shows the negative effects of specializing in a single sport too early. I realize what I’m saying goes against what almost every travel sports program is pushing, but I’ve seen a lot of kids leaving the sport early because it’s no longer fun for them. When they are being pushed so hard to do the same thing 11 months out of the year, not only are they more like to develop an injury, but they also lose the fun of playing.
Q: What are you most excited about in your new role as Safesport coordinator?
For me, the most important thing is making sure parents and coaches have the most current and accurate information related to player safety, health, nutrition, injury prevention and injury management. I will be posting articles and resources to the Stallions website throughout the season, and will make myself available to talk to any player or family that has a health, nutrition, injury or safety concern.
Q: Obviously concussions are a topic of interest in contact sports like hockey. Can you give us some insight on what we might expect in terms of resources and support in that area?
Given the recent focus on concussions in all levels of football ranging from the NFL to youth leagues, there is a vast amount of content available on the Internet related to the topic. Understanding the signs of a concussion and how best to treat that specific concussion is critically important for all athletes who participate in contact sports. I will be directing our players and families to the most reputable sources and leading institutions for research on concussions.
Our players ages 12+ will shortly be receiving information on how to conduct baseline concussion testing at one of the local physical therapy clinics that has a partnership with NIHL. These baseline tests are very helpful as they allow for an accurate evaluation of a head injury and appropriate protocol for treating that injury.
Additionally, all coaches are required to complete a safety module on concussions through USA Hockey. I will be working with our coaches to provide them with further education as needed.
Q: What does a healthy hockey look like to you?
I think you need to look at that term from two different perspectives:
Physically– focusing on nutrition, hydration, strength and conditioning; all things we try to help the older athletes on to help prevent injuries, but there are also certainly ways we can help even our youngest players. At those ages however, the focus is more about motor coordination.
Mentally – At every level you want to make sure the player is having fun. As they get older, you want to make sure they’re learning how to push themselves, operate outside of their comfort zone, and be a valuable member of a team.
Q: What role does sleep play in your safesport efforts?
Proper sleep is definitely another area I want to touch on with our Stallions. Some of the toughest things for a parent to control and truly understand are best practices around proper sleep. Part of that challenge stems from the fact that proper sleep needs vary from individual to individual. However, there are some universal basics that I will be adding to our educational materials.
In fact, there has been some interesting research on poor sleep hygiene. I believe this is an area where we can provide information that directly benefits our parents as well, because, let’s face it, we could all use a little more sleep. It’s one of the things that’s most often overlooked and not generally understood by people.
Q: What does safesport success look like for the Stallions?
We always want to strive for the absolute least amount injuries (including concussions). We want to have resources both in print and in person (myself) that parents can come to when they have specific questions about their son or daughter’s specific situation.
We also want to have some clearer goals on injury prevention. Prevention is really that lost piece of the puzzle when it comes to health and our entire society. Much of what we do today is reactive instead of actively working towards preventing things from happening. My goal is to provide our families with the tools and education needed to operate in a preventative manner for injuries, burnout and the psychological stress that can be present when playing at a higher level of competition.
Q: What two key things do you hope our parents absorb from Stallions safesport this season?
I want our parents to have the most accurate information available and become further educated on hydration and concussions.
Focusing on the psychological aspect of sports is equally important. I hope our safesport program will provide them with ways to prevent kids from getting burned out or stressed out. I’ve said this before, but a key way to do that is to promote multi-sport athletes, not just hockey players.
I will say the one area that’s going to be the hardest to talk about is the nutrition piece, because it’s so hard for everybody, at any age (ain’t that the truth!).
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our Stallions families?
Yes. I would like to share my email address so our families know how to reach me if they have a question or concern. I am happy to meet with anyone in person, and can be reached by clicking below.