April is National Youth Sports Safety Month, but the issue prompts growing concern in parents, coaches and teachers the other 11 months of the year too. According to Healthline, over 20 million kids in the U.S. participate in sports annually and almost one million suffer serious sports related injuries. However, recent research notes that diversifying participation in a multitude of sports and not playing year-round can help reduce injury levels and improve athletic performance.
The study, published in Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, analyzed articles from 1990 to 2011 for information helping them determine if sports specialization actually helps or hurts kids. Researchers also utilized recent work conducted by the article’s lead author, Dr. Neeri Jayanthi, the medical director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Jayanthi’s research evaluated injury rates in 519 tennis players ages 10-18 who spent, on average, 11-15 hours/per week training.
Their results highlighted that kids who specialized in tennis were 1.5 times more likely to get an injury, regardless of their total training time. Performance was also investigated by the researchers and the studies illustrated that in sports like cycling, swimming, and skating, those who started significant training around age 15 were more likely to become elite-level athletes (defined by podium placings in European competitions and top-10 results in World and Olympic events) than their peers who started training earlier.
“Kids often receive pressure from their parents or coaches to be the best in one given sport, when in reality participating in free play and a multitude of sports from an early age is the best strategy to create an outstanding athlete,” said William Levine, MD, Chair of the STOP Sports Injuries Advisory Committee.
STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries is a comprehensive public outreach program that focuses on the importance of sports safety-specifically relating to overuse and trauma injuries. The initiative not only raises awareness and provides education on injury reduction, but also highlights how playing safe and smart can enhance and extend a child’s athletic career, improve teamwork, reduce obesity rates and create a lifelong love of exercise and healthy activity. Initiated by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) in early 2007, the campaign’s organizational partners include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and SAFE Kids USA.
We recommend checking out the organization’s helpful injury prevention tip sheets specific to numerous sports, ranging from football and field hockey to cheerleading, swimming and lacrosse. Visit www.STOPSportsInjuries.org to learn more about preventing youth sports injuries.
Usually it is the safety risks from playing football that make the headlines. But other sports that involve contact between players and field surfaces need to protect participants from concussions too. That’s why Major League Lacrosse (MLL), the premier professional outdoor lacrosse league, has partnered with the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) to create an innovative, comprehensive concussion program for the 2013 season. Considering that Major League Lacrosse sets an example for youth sports organizations, the partnership is expected to help protect athletes of all ages.
“Concussions are a critical issue in sports today,” said MLL Commissioner David Gross. “We asked SLI, the experts in the field, to develop the most aggressive program in professional sports so that we can protect our players’ long-term health, ensure longevity of their careers and set a strong example for youth and college sports programs to make concussion care and training a priority.”
The policies, developed by SLI Medical Director and concussion expert Robert Cantu, MD, and SLI Executive Director Chris Nowinski, combine best practices from peer sports leagues while adding new elements focusing on education, reporting, assessment and management. SLI is a Boston-based non-profit organization founded to advance the study, treatment and prevention of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.
Innovations in the MLL concussion program include:
- Education: To accelerate culture change, MLL players will participate in two educational sessions, one before and one during the season, as well as be required to complete an online training program and view the documentary Head Games. Coaches, general managers, referees and medical personnel will all be required to meet a minimum educational standard.
- Remove-from-play: MLL will become the first professional sports organization to mandate the King-Devick test — an objective rapid sideline screening test of concussions that a growing body of studies show is an effective test for concussion — as an additional sideline assessment tool.
- Concussion Check: A new concept developed by SLI, MLL will pilot a program designed to improve concussion reporting by training MLL personnel to recognize concussion signs and symptoms and emphasize that they have a responsibility to alert the team medical staff or referee. If a teammate, coach, general manager, athletic trainer, physician/doctor, equipment manager, opposing team physician or referee triggers a concussion check, the player must be removed and evaluated by the medical team using the new MLL Sideline Assessment Tool.
- Concussion Caretaker: A new concept developed by SLI, when a player is diagnosed with a concussion, MLL medical staffs will educate at least one family member and/or caretaker, designated by the player before the season, on concussion management and how to support an athlete recovering from a concussion.
- Research: MLL will encourage teams to participate in innovative research, including participating in the SLI Hit Count™ Initiative, and encouraging players to participate in research programs, including the brain donation program at the Boston University Center for Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to raise the bar and pilot new concepts and look forward an exciting MLL season,” noted Dr. Cantu, who serves as an advisor to the National Football League, National Football League Players Association, Ivy League and co-author of every International Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport.
Giving it your all on the football field has been a mantra for high school and college football players for generations. From “Remember the Titans” and “Friday Night Lights” to “The Blind Side,” pop culture has certainly embraced the concept, showing tired, battered student-athletes pushing past the odds to prevail in the end. But that’s not always the best course of action, especially when prospective concussions are involved.
In the past few years, research has proven that returning to the game after suffering a blow to the head can lead to permanent, significant damage. Still it can be challenging for players and coaches pressured to win games to know when it’s time for a student athlete to sit it out. That’s why the South Carolina House of Representatives just passed a bill requiring schools to have a concussion policy for all sports: As this segment from WJBF-TV in Aiken County, South Carolina attests, new statewide legislation could put a dent in concussions.
“If you don’t tell them you have to do it, they’re going to take the easy path,” says Tim McLane, the Head Athletic Trainer at Georgia Regents Sports Medicine Center, in this news story. “They have enough pressure on them from administrators and the community, ‘you need to win and you need to do it right.’”
The new S.C. Bill requires coaches to go over the statewide concussion policy with players and parents, and if a player shows signs or seems out of it, they’re out of the game. It is part of a national shift to better protect student-athletes. According to USA Football, 43 states and Washington, D.C., had passed laws by the end of 2012 protecting student-athletes from returning to play too soon after suffering the effects of a concussion. With South Carolina on board, we’re hoping all 50 states have these policies in places soon.
Do you know of a high school that considers safety as important as winning for its sports teams? Encourage them to enter the Brock Safety MVP Contest for the chance to win $5,000 worth of sports equipment for their school. The entry deadline has been extended to May 15, 2013!
Want to learn more about solving the concussion crisis from the front lines? Here’s the latest insight from Christopher Nowinski, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sports Legacy Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the concussion crisis in sports and the military through medical research, treatment, and education and prevention.
Q1) How is the concussion debate evolving when it comes to younger athletes at the high school and middle school level?
A: Everyone is finally paying more attention to the concussion issue at the high school and middle school levels, where the issue is much more important. It’s difficult for the media to focus on this level because high school athletes aren’t national icons like the pros, and any coverage they would provide inevitably would not get the same number of viewers, listeners, or readers. For us advocates and scientists, it’s important to remember that the people we have to work hardest to protect are the young athletes with more vulnerable brains, less understanding of their own bodies and the consequences of their actions, fewer medical experts to protect them, and less investment in safety equipment and infrastructure.
Q2) What is the current state of concussion education in youth sports programs? How can we make it better?
A: We have made progress in concussion education, but still have a long way to go. The Centers for Disease Control has led the way in developing free online training programs, and thanks to concussion legislation, coaches and parents are now viewing them. The biggest gaps can be attributed to the fact that education is not mandated in many states for coaches below the high school level, and most importantly that we have yet to validate education programs for athletes younger than high school age. We don’t know if we can educate a 10-year-old about concussions and have it change their behavior. To learn about the best concussion education programs, visit www.concussionchecklist.org
Q3) How can coaches, educators, parents and players help prevent youth concussions during practices and on game day?
A: Prevention is our best defense against the consequences of concussions. SLI is urging programs to minimize brain trauma exposure (for example, fewer hitting days in football practice, fewer headers in soccer practice). Eventually, we hope to quantify prevention through our Hit CountTM initiative (www.hitcount.org). We are learning that neck strength likely reduces energy transferred to the brain, so I anticipate a renaissance in neck training. Parents and players need to focus on contributing to a culture of respect for the head – never target the head, and heavily penalize players that do.
Q4) What role do playing surfaces have in causing or preventing concussions?
A: Playing surfaces play a larger role in prevention than we give them credit for. For example, some of the greatest forces to the brain occur from the head hitting the ice in hockey. Taking that logic forward, we can ensure that more forgiving grass and turf surfaces can limit concussions and subconcussive forces from the regular occurrence of a player’s head hitting the ground.
Q5) What do you see emerging as the major concussion initiatives for youth sports over the next few years?
A: Over the next few years, we’ll be focusing a few different areas that I’ve mentioned, including better education, reform and rule changes in youth sports, with a specific focus on youth football, and lowering overall exposure through a Hit CountTM. My 2012 book Head Games shows that we have many, many of opportunities to improve outcomes for athletes, and the reality is that if we create and encourage games where children regularly collide, fall, and get injured, we need to try harder to protect them!
The mission of the Sports Legacy Institute is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups. Visit www.sportslegacy.org to learn more.
A lot of people are asking questions about concussions these days – parents, coaches, medical experts, advocates and many others. But what concerns about this issue are on the minds of young athletes themselves?
We spotted and wanted to share this great, five minute video put together by the Arlington Public School (APS) System in Virginia. In the piece, students pose their questions about preventing brain injuries on the playing field to Chris Nowinski, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization founded to advance the study, treatment, and prevention of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups
APS Health and P.E. Supervisor Debbie Defranco also talks about the system’s concussion training that provides coaches, parents and student-athletes with up-to-date information about concussions. Supported by a grant from the Virginia Department of Public Health, APS has been partnering with the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) to provide the Advanced Concussion Training (ACT) sessions.
What questions have you been hearing from young athletes about concussions? Let us know if you have any other videos to share on the topic!
Over the past few years, scientific inquiry has often focused on NFL players and sometimes collegiate athletes when it comes to sport concussions. But that is about to change in a big way with the launch of several new, major studies that will take a deeper look at brain injuries for younger athletes on the playing field.
As announced on January 7, the Institutes of Medicine is launching one of the most extensive studies on sports-related concussions in youth ranging in age from elementary school through young adulthood. The federally-financed research group will review the science on concussions, including risk factors, long-term consequences, and the effectiveness of protective devices and equipment among other topics.
Virginia Tech is also expanding its ground-breaking research of testing football helmets to go beyond football. First launched in 2003, this effort initially focused on the effectiveness of football helmets used by college athletes and was expanded in 2011 to include children as young as six to eight years old. Now according to this story from Medical News Today, the study will grow to also encompass helmets worn by hockey, baseball, softball and lacrosse athletes to better predict and prevent sports-related concussions.
We believe that any efforts to create a safer playing experience for today’s youth – from enhancing the helmets and padding they wear to the playing surface itself, is critical to combat the escalating instance of concussions. What do you think about these latest studies?
Escalating concussion rates among high school sports is not a new story. As this article from Mom’s Team notes, concussions account for 10% of all high school sports injuries, and concussion rates have doubled in the past decade. It’s probably no surprise that football is the biggest source of brain injuries. There are about 67,000 diagnosed concussions in the game every year, according to a 2009 report from the Journal of Athletic Training called “Head Impacts during high school football: a biomechanical assessment.” And those numbers are still significantly under-reported, as young players protest they’re ready to play again immediately and coaches might not recognize the warning signs of concussions. That’s why we wanted to spotlight the Center for Disease Control’s concussion prevention program, called Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports. Free of charge, this online course teaches coaches, parents, and others how to keep young athletes safe from concussion. The quick, 30 minute module features interviews with experts and interactive exercises. According to the CDC, the course helps participants:
- Understand a concussion and the potential consequences of this injury,
- Recognize concussion signs and symptoms and how to respond,
- Learn about steps for returning to activity (play and school) after a concussion, and
- Focus on prevention and preparedness to help keep athletes safe season-to-season.
To learn more, visit http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/HeadsUp/youth.html. What concussion-related education and injury prevention programs are making a difference in your community? Let us know so they can be spotlighted in future posts!
From ensuring their seat belts are always buckled to scheduling annual flu shots, many parents would do anything to keep their kids safe. The same is certainly true for youth sports. In light of the escalating concussion crisis, parents and coaches would balk at the idea of a student entering the football field without protection from helmets and padding. Yet after the season ends, the same kids may play soccer, lacrosse or baseball with minimal protective gear at all.