In whatever sport a child chooses to play, I recommend that all parents do their homework and ask the league and coaches about how they handle head safety.

Whether it’s football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball or field hockey, safety is of the utmost importance. I encourage parents to ask their child’s coaches and sports organizations the following 10 questions.


On the field issues

  1. Does the league teach or coach proper techniques (i.e., blocking and tackling in football, checking in hockey and lacrosse) in ways that are “head-safe” by not putting the head in position to be struck?
  2. If the player does demonstrate unsafe technique during practice or a game, do the coaches re-instruct them with the proper technique or method? Is head and neck strengthening taught?
  3. If a contact sport, are there limitations to the amount of contact? How often (number of days per week, number of minutes per practice) do you practice with live contact? Is that any different than past years? 
  4. What is the policy regarding allowing a player to return to play? (Correct answer – ONLY when an appropriate medical professional provides written clearance that the athlete is fully recovered and ready to return.)

Education

  1. Does the league provide concussion education for the parents, and what is the policy for informing parents of suspected concussions?
  2. Are the coaches required to take a concussion education and training course?
  3. Do the coaches have readily available the tools, such as concussion signs and symptoms cards, clipboards, fact sheets, smartphone apps, etc., during practice and games to guide proper recognition and response of a suspected concussion?

League policies

  1. Who is responsible for the sideline concussion recognition and response to suspected concussions during practice and games?
  2. Does the league have a general policy for how they manage concussions, and have access to healthcare professionals with knowledge and training in sport-related concussion?
  3. How amenable is the league/team/coach to accepting feedback from parents about their child’s safety as it relates to head safety?

Heads Up Football Program reduces injuries

USA Football, the national governing body of youth and high school football, is making their own strides towards better head safety. I serve on their Medical Advisory Committee, and according to a new study, USA Football’s Heads Up Football program had a 76 percent reduction in injuries compared to leagues that did not participate in the program. This study also revealed a 34 percent reduction in concussions in practices and a 29 percent reduction in concussions during games for Heads Up leagues.

The Heads Up Football program combines the knowledge of the CDC, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and others to help teach and play football safer at the youth and high school levels.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gerard Gioia Gerard Gioia, PhD, is the Division Chief of Neuropsychology and the director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program at Children's National. He treats people with brain injuries with dual areas of interest in disorders involving the executive functions and pediatric concussion/ mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).

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