The topic of concussions in youth sports has been getting a great deal of attention lately. Schools and youth sports clubs are grappling with how best to protect the heads of young players, legislators are responding with new laws, and insurers are examining ways to address this exposure. For parents, this issue represents one more balancing act between protecting your children while still providing them with enriching and fulfilling opportunities. For some parental strategies to consider, plus helpful web links, please continue reading.
As any parent knows, watching your children play school or club sports can be extremely enjoyable and exciting. There's the usual competitive thrill that comes from cheering on any team in which you are emotionally invested. Plus, there's the extra bonus that comes from the vicarious pride of watching your offspring possibly bestowing honor on your family name. With three children who have played multiple club and school sports for many years, I know how much fun it can be. That is of course, until the moment one of them gets hurt. Then it’s not as much fun anymore.
Injuries are a part of virtually all sports. If you play a competitive sport long enough, you will very likely suffer some sort of injury. It’s just part of the deal. Whether playing football, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, cheerleading, or just about any other sport, a certain percentage of players will get injured. Many of those injuries will be to the head, and some will be sufficient enough to cause a concussion. Two of my kids have been sidelined with multiple concussions, so unfortunately I have some experience with this type of traumatic brain injury. Since it’s probably not desirable to encourage kids to become couch potatoes, what’s a parent to do?
Much has been written recently about concussions and a great deal of the discussion focuses on what the best prevention methods might be, what the best post-impact treatment should be, and how quickly a player can safely return to the game. Even just a quick Internet search on concussions will yield a tremendous amount of (sometimes-conflicting) information. Whether it’s the evening news, a concerned family member, or a Hollywood movie, there is clearly an increased awareness of the prevalence and the dangers of concussions.
The insurance industry may certainly be more focused on the possible legal liability aspects arising out of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries, but all the information on concussions is valuable and can be applied by anyone in the public sector. Here are a few steps to take to help keep players as safe as possible before, during and after participating in any sport with a high incident of head injuries:
- Encourage your school or club to institute baseline testing of all athletes at the beginning of each school year.
Baseline tests are computerized assessments of such things as reaction time, memory, etc. Since there is no definitive concussion test, it is often very difficult to determine if a person has suffered a concussion. A comparison of the pre-injury test results (the baseline) against the post-head injury results can provide important clues as to the presence of, or the severity of a suspected concussion.
- Push for an athletic trainer, or another appropriately trained person to be on the sidelines to make the call for return to the game after a head impact.
Ideally, this person should not be the coach or anyone who may have conflicted objectives.
- Talk to your kids so that they are empowered to speak up if they feel they may have had an impact that should be evaluated.
Competitors naturally want to get back in the game. In addition to the internal voice telling them to get back on the field, other stakeholders may be subtly or not so subtly pressuring them to shake it off and get back in. By talking to your kids beforehand about the importance of advocating for their own health, they may be more inclined to put their welfare first and admit when they are not feeling well after a hit.
- If a concussion has occurred, insist on proper rest and recovery.
Although the pressure to return to play may be great, after a concussion it can take considerable time to fully recover. If a player goes back too soon, the risk of another brain injury is higher until full recovery from the first hit has occurred.
- Consider protective head gear.
No one would play sports such as football, hockey or lacrosse without a helmet, but in some other sports with high head injury rates such as soccer and cheerleading, head protection is not part of the culture. Wearing head protection is still controversial and studies of the efficacy of head protection devices have yielded conflicting results. However, both my kids are wearing protective head gear when playing soccer in the hopes it may help prevent or reduce the severity of another concussion. I also know a young soccer player who has consistently worn head gear for years - his father is a pediatric neurologist and has told me that although it’s hard to definitively prove that head protection helps, he wouldn’t let his son play soccer without it.
The head injury issue is a challenging one that will be with us for the foreseeable future. Staying informed, and employing logical measures to help mitigate the negative effects of these injuries, may be the best way to help keep young players as safe as possible while still allowing them to experience all of the positive benefits that comes from being physically active.
A few websites with more information on this topic: