10 Tips For Winning With Asthma: Coaches, Gym Teachers, and Nurses

There are countless Olympic and professional athletes that have asthma. Chances are that as coaches, gym teachers, and nurses you may have already helped to train a few. It also goes without saying that since the long term physical and psychological benefits of exercise are so well established, we all must encourage all kids and teens—with and without asthma—to participate in sports and exercise. Kids and teens with asthma can compete even at the highest level and should not have to sit on the sidelines. As a coach, gym teacher or school nurse, you are an integral part of their success. Please check out these 10 Tips for a winning asthma game plan for your student-athlete.


Realize that each and every young person with asthma should be able to exercise and play sports with little, if any, limitation if their asthma is under good control and properly managed. It is critical that the coach or gym teacher considers himself/herself an integral part of the team that includes the youngster, parent and asthma specialist. As a team member, please encourage your athlete to adhere to his or her asthma treatment plan every day and communicate closely with parents and physicians.


Know the facts about asthma. Approximately one out of four or five elite, competitive athletes at the high school or college level have asthma or exercise-induced bronchospasm (airway narrowing that occurs during or after physical exertion in susceptible young people). At least 10% of the youth population in general has asthma.


Be aware of the signs and symptoms suggestive of asthma. Many young people are embarrassed or frightened to report symptoms for fear of being excluded from exercise or playing sports. Some do not even realize what is happening to them. Be cognizant of complaints about chest pain, chest tightness, difficulty “getting air in”, dry cough, and redness in the face or extreme pallor during or immediately after aerobic exertion. These warning signs may warrant parental notification. Encourage your athlete or student to “get checked out” for possible asthma.

For gym teachers of younger individuals, the “one mile” or President’s fitness run may provide the signal. For team coaches, the tip-off can be breathing difficulty with wind sprints or suicides (during practice and warm-up sessions). At the high school and college levels, underperformance for the level of conditioning may be an important clue to the possibility of underlying asthma.


Your most important role as part of the asthma team is to help ensure that the young athlete trains hard, follows the individualized treatment plan and consistently receives the encouragement that he or she can and will win even with the challenges and obstacles that asthma may present.


Be clear that there are certain times when a young person’s asthma may present more of a challenge to outstanding athletic performance. These times may include peak times for seasonal allergies or with upper respiratory infections or colds.

“Toughing it out” or “battling through” their symptoms is just not the smart way to go. Instead, encourage and teach your student athlete to adjust or increase their medicines as early as possible. This move decreases the chance of deterioration in asthma. Never discourage the use of asthma medications. Even at the professional and Olympic levels, many asthma medications are absolutely approved for use if deemed necessary, in advance, by an asthma doctor.


It is definitely to a coach’s or gym teacher’s advantage to be in the know about asthma and it’s treatment. Read The Basics of Asthma for more information.

Understand which medications should be used in advance and which should be introduced as rescue medications should symptoms occur. No two young people with asthma will likely be on the same asthma treatment plan—and, each individual responds a little differently to various medications. Treatment trials and adjustments may be necessary, and, a combination of two or three medications may ultimately be necessary for optimal control.


If your athlete with asthma is not performing as well as expected, or, if more overt asthma symptoms arise, encourage them to take a break and incorporate their “rescue” strategies. They will most likely come back stronger in a short period of time.


Learn how to recognize an athlete or student in trouble and one who may be in need of emergency care. When there is no symptom improvement within 15-20 minutes of using a rescue inhaler (bronchodilator), it’s a distress sign.

A youngster who is bent over with shoulders lifted, or is struggling to breathe, or has difficulty speaking, or has pulling in of the chest or neck muscles is definitely in trouble A gray or bluish discoloration of the lips or nail beds is indicative of extreme distress.

Stay calm and encourage your athlete to remain calm by encouraging slow and steady deep breaths. Remain with your student athlete and immediately ask someone to call 911.


Want to maximize physical exercise and athletic performance?

Encourage the consistent and proper use of a exercise inhaler(s) (if prescribed), know the proper delivery techniques and supervise your athlete whenever possible.

Actively encourage a moderate to high intensity warm-up for five to ten minutes after the the pre-exercise inhaler is used. A focused warm-up goes a long way to decreasing the airway spasm that can occur. Cool-downs after workouts slow the changeover of air in the lungs from cold back to warm and lessen the chance of symptoms occurring after aerobic exercise.

If you coach or teach cold weather sports, encourage breathing through the nose as much as possible. Recommend that your athlete cover his or her mouth with a scarf or ski gator. Cold air inhalation, accompanied by the usual airway dryness that occurs with increased ventilation generated with exercise, can easily trigger exercise-induced bronchospasm.


Finally, after serving as a source of encouragement and motivation all day long to athletes and students, coaches and gym teachers need an inspiring pep talk you can call your own. OK, here it is:

The better the athlete’s state of physical condition, the better the asthma control. The better the asthma control, the better the athlete’s performance. Now, get out there and help your youngster win over asthma.