A recent article over at CNN got me thinking a bit about food allergies and how they might impact a soccer association. The article is a heart wrenching tale about a parent’s discovery that they have a child who is extremely allergic to many types of food, including peanuts, wheat, and dairy. They talk about the ways they adapted at home, how their young daughter helped out, and how there were numerous times when mistakes were made that put their son’s life at risk. I can’t even begin to imagine the hardships something like this presents parents. But I was rather surprised by this section near the end when they talked about the difficulties they might face when he attended public school:

I hope that Teddy’s classmate’s parents won’t react negatively to the exclusion of pean­ut products from the classroom. I’ve heard parents freak out when told that no peanut butter could come into a classroom. “But it’s all he will eat!” one parent said, as if it weren’t possible for a child to live for a few hours without peanut butter. If an orange Crayola would kill a child, there would be no question about teaching kids how to mix yellow and red instead, but heaven forbid you ask a kid to wait for a peanut butter snack so someone in his class won’t die.

Wow. This brings to the surface a common tension among parents, especially surrounding the classroom, in terms of what level of restrictions are tolerable to ensure nobody has problems in class. It’s gotten to the point that many schools have just outright banned bringing in ANY outside food or snacks because of the wide variety of food allergies out there – it’s not just peanuts anymore. But I also think the author glosses over the fact that it’s not just her situation parents are having to deal with and it can be overwhelming and leads many to ask where we should ‘draw the line’ to ensure allergic kids are safe while not taking everything fun out of school or other activities.

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How does this relate to soccer? Well, as we all know, one of the highlights of soccer season, especially for younger kids, is the post game snacks. It’s ALL about the snacks :) When you have 700+ children participating in an activity, somebody is going to have a food allergy (recent studies note that 6-8% of childre­n having a food allergy). Does our league have a food allergy policy? No. The most common (and sensible) solution is for the team manager to alert the parents about what types of snacks are OK based on significant input from the parent of a teammate with a food allergy. Most parents don’t mind accommodating it, but it helps ease tensions when the homework gets done for them. So all is well, right?

Well for the most part. But the quote above brought to mind some other instances where parents of allergic kids wanted us to do some pretty drastic things, which we declined to do, so I couldn’t help but feel irked when I read the comment about ‘living a few hours without peanut butter’. It’s just not realistic to make sure nobody out there might ever have an allergic reaction.

First, I had a parent alert me that there were peanut shells on the ground on one of our fields. Apparently a spectator had been eating peanuts and dropped some shells on the ground. She felt we needed to email all our parents asking them not to bring peanuts to the soccer games because kids with peanut allergies might stumble across and pickup the shells. Now I’m not negating the risk here – I know some kids are that allergic to peanuts. But is that realistic or even called for (vs the parents having to keep a close eye on their child – something as a parent of four I know can be next to impossible some times) and if we do it for that, do we need to email warnings about candy wrappers, etc. Sure, we remind parents to pickup trash and not litter – but telling parents not to BRING peanuts?

The second instance was a parent alerting me to the fact that most of the products in our concession stand contained some form of peanuts and that we should sell only peanut-free products. Otherwise the risk was too great that kids would buy the products and share them with their allergic friends. Again, I asked if it was right to limit what hundreds of our league participants could purchase because of the remote risk an unsupervised child might eat a peanut based product? It’s absolutely a risk, but again, where do you draw the line? We do sell peanut free candy (Starburst, Skittles, etc.), but we also sell Trial Mix and all sorts of candy that contain some amount of peanuts.

My point in all this is more of a curiosity in terms of what other leagues do out there when it comes to food allergies, if anything. The extent of our league’s involvement is asking parents to list allergies on their child’s registration form (which in turn alerts the coach and manager) and us giving the manager some brief pointers on how to deal with it. But common sense, for the most part, prevails.

Does your league take it farther?

If you do happen to find yourself coaching or managing a team with a player who is allergic to peanuts, there are many helpful sites that list ‘safe’ snacks, though you should always check with the affected parent before sending a list out to your other parents. I’m sure there are other sites for allergies beyond peanuts.

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