Tips For Coaching a Type 1 Athlete | Softball is For Girls

It’s no secret that here at SIFG, we are extremely passionate about our type 1, or T1D athletes. They amaze us. They inspire us. They are true warriors who wake up every single day of their lives to a sea of unknown. We know, because three years ago our own daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She was 61 pounds soaking wet, blood sugars over 1000, sitting in a bed at Children’s Hospital and the only question she asked the nurse attending to her was, “Will I be able to make middle school softball tryouts this week?” 

The nurse, wearing an insulin pump was a Godsend, as not only was she young and athletic and type 1, but she had just finished a 4 year gig at college where she was a college softball player. And so, just like that, we were off on the adventure. 

Type 1 diabetes can literally happen to anyone. It has nothing to do with what a child eats, and is instead an autoimmune disease where the immune system destroys the islet beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin. It is vastly different from Type 2 diabetes. Vastly different.  And without insulin my daughter would be dead in likely a month or so. Swallow that reality. 

We have met hundreds of type 1 athletes since our daughters diagnosis.

And what never ceases to amaze us is how determined, how strong, how tough, how capable and how amazingly persistent these kids are. Every day of their lives, they wake to face dozens of needles pricks, some taking shots, others tethered to insulin pumps, carb-counting, and what we call a sea of unknown possibilities.

One minute they can be 100% totally fine, and the next for no rhyme or reason their blood sugars can hop on a roller coaster ride that threatens their life. This disease sucks, most of all because it is wildly unpredictable from one moment to the next.

As a parent, I can tell you first hand – that there is no break, or day off, or time to relax for those who love the T1D or for the T1D. Just when you think everything is going perfectly well – Type 1 diabetes will throw a violent summer thunderstorm in your face just to keep you on your toes and show you who is boss. 

So coaching a type 1? Is it different? Is putting a type 1 on your team a  risk? What can/should you expect? Do they need to be careful? Can they eat candy or snacks? Should you be worried? 

Today, we hope to help with tips for coaching a type 1 athlete. 

  1. First of all, and most importantly keep in mind that wearing an insulin pump, and a glucose monitor, or giving themselves shots in public and carrying around their bags of supplies everywhere they go, likely brings more than enough unwanted attention to them, that they DO NOT want. These kids know humility…. And most of these kids just want to be normal. They don’t want to be stared at, asked if they are ok every five seconds, coddled or handled with kit gloves. These kids are tough. So treat them normally, just like you treat everyone else on the team. 
  2. Be aware of the signs of highs and lows. Outwardly, most T1D’s have noticeable changes in their personality, speech, mannerisms and behavior when their blood sugars are going crazy. The longer you are around a type 1, the more familiar you will get with them. Make sure that they know they can check their blood sugars anytime they want or feel the need to without harassment or questioning. These kids know their bodies, and they just need to hear from the coaches that they can handle their business whenever is necessary, even if you are in the middle of a drill. And if you notice some behavior out of their norm, then just pat them on the shoulder and tell them to go check.
  3.  Don’t, and we repeat do not ask them if they can eat this or that. A type 1 can eat or drink anything the team eats or drinks as long as they take insulin for it. Sugar is not the enemy, don’t try to hide candy, or stay away from ice cream parties or cupcakes because a kid is type 1. It is NOT necessary!  And trust me, candy can be their best friend especially when they are physically exerting themselves. If you see your type 1 athlete downing sour straws or skittles, they are probably just treating themselves for a low. 
  4. Make sure officials know that you have a player on your team outfitted with a pump or glucose monitor. We have had one very obnoxious, rude mom get EXTREMELY upset in the middle of game and cause a huge scene because our daughter was wearing a spi-belt with her insulin pump in it, and this crazy parent wanted it removed right away because she thought it was sticking out too far and would make her easier to be hit by a pitch. Sigh. 
  5. Keep a glucagon gun in your coaches bag or bucket and make sure you know how to use it. The glucagon gun can save this child’s life, and in the rare event that a parent may not be there – you need to make sure you have access to one. A low, causing a seizure can come on at anytime – even unexpectedly. Glucagon shots are easy to give, but you want to familiarize yourself with it. Don’t just blow it off and think you can handle it should the need arise, take 5 minutes to learn how to properly use it. There is a LIFE at stake. 
  6. Speaking of parents. Type 1 parents are crazy, I can admit. 🙂 But you don’t walk in their shoes, and they know their child’s blood sugar tendencies better than anyone. And until you wake up one morning and find your beloved kid unresponsive, or live through a seizure from a low blood sugar, or see them in the hospital with DKA, or have to deal with flushing ketones – you WILL NOT not understand how damn hard this diagnosis is on families. So give them a break, and don’t be offended if they check on their kid a little more than normal. 
  7. NEVER punish them, or humiliate them for something they cannot control. I pulled my own daughter out of a championship game when I noticed she had missed three ground balls in a row. Her blood sugar was 603 when she checked, and she was PISSED AT ME and DID NOT want to stop playing. But understand that vision, heart rate, personality, and coordination and focus are GREATLY affected by spikes and lows. It can be dangerous for them to stay in the game, and as much as it sucks to yank them, sometimes it has to happen. It may NEVER happen again, but the one thing that is for sure with Type 1 is that you never really know. Even so, don’t punish them or sit them for the rest of the season. It may never happen, it may happen once – or it may happen several times. You just never know. If they can deal with it in their daily lives, you should be able to deal with it for one inning or game should something arise.
  8. Expect excellence from them. There is no reason to expect otherwise. Remember that the number one goal for every child, is to live the life God gave them to the best of their ability. And this is true of kids with any ‘disabilities’  THERE ARE NO LIMITS!
  9. Understand that the motto of a type 1 diabetic family is, “Prepare for anything (and we mean anything, Pray for nothing!” 
  10. Most importantly…count your blessings. These kids have grit. And they are tough as nails. And they are accustomed to fighting every day of their life, and they will fight for you and your team. They aren’t easily hindered, or quickly defeated. Most of them will whine and complain far less than the kids facing no real problems in life. When they are playing sports and following their dreams, they are grateful and in their happy place! And when they are on YOUR team, you know that you have a warrior on your side. 



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