“Are you ready for some football?” My 10-year old son certainly is! And while the very idea of having him play football makes me a bit nervous- he couldn’t be more excited about his first season of tackle football. And part of the reason that I am a bit jittery about the whole idea, is that I am worried about the possibility of concussions in this type of a contact sport. Just last year, two kids from my older son’s soccer team suffered concussions and both boys missed weeks of play and in one case several weeks of school while he recovered. So when I came across the opportunity to attend a “Heads Up” event sponsored by the NFL and USAFootball recently, I jumped at the chance! I knew that I had a lot to learn about concussion safety when it comes to kids sports.
#1- What exactly IS a concussion?
According to Dr Gerald Gioia, PhD (chief of pediatric neuropyschology Children’s National Medical Center), a concussion is an injury to the brain due to a blow to the head or to the body that jerks the head forward. He explained that the medical profession used to think that concussions created an injury to the brain (kind of like a bruise) but now they think that a concussion might actually make changes to the brain’s “software”, meaning the way that it works. But researchers still do not know for sure.A concussion produces a whole host of symptoms that can affect how that child functions, and these symptoms can last. It can affect attention, memory, social interactions, mood, energy, and can produce headache pain. And when not properly diagnosed and allowed to heal, concussions can have long term effects on learning and performance. They are not an injury to be taken lightly.
#2- How do I know if my child has suffered a concussion?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website:
“To help recognize a concussion, you should watch for the following two things among your athletes:
- A forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head.
- Any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.
Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.”
The CDC reminds us that sometimes kids don’t shows symptoms until hours or even days after the injury has occurred. So it is important that you as a parent look for these signs in your child if they took a blow to the body or to the head during a game or practice (or even while out playing in your yard for that matter!)
#3- “When in Doubt, Sit Them Out”
The first line of defense are trusting our coaches to know when to “bench” our kids during a game because they witnessed the hit and they recognize that there is a change in the child’s behavior or functioning. If there is any doubt whatsoever about whether a player may have sustained a concussion, that player needs to sit out of the game. Period.
Are you concerned that your child’s coach may not have the latest information on concussions and youth sports? Print this or email them this link to a detailed fact sheet specifically created for coaches by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/pdf/coaches_Engl.pdf.
#4- Kids shouldn’t be afraid to tell their coach that they are injured
So often in the past, parents and coaches told kids to “toughen up” or “shake it off” when they were hurt, and encouraged players to get back in the game. And over time, kids internalized this message and just stopped admitting to coaches that they were injured. It is time to change this mindset in kids sports, and it needs to start with parents and coaches telling kids that it is important to let us know when they are injured. As underscored by Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, “The number one thing we need to tell our kids is to not be afraid to raise their hands and say that they have an injury”.
#5- So why should we even allow our kids to play sports?
So does all of this information above leave you wanting to hide your kids indoors and forget all about playing sports? I sure hope not! Although I started to feel to feel that way a bit during this presentation. Until Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, PsyD (Chicago Bears, Northshore University Healthcare System) reminded us that there are so many benefits to having your kids play sports….the physical activity itself, gains in self discipline and emotional control (sports help kids learn how to lose!), sports provides an incentive to keep up good grades, sports demand that a player learns good time management skills, and provides social support and friendships as well as leadership opportunities (many leaders in various industries point to the fact that they had their first opportunities for leadership in sports). Kids involved in sports benefit from increased self esteem and often enjoy being identified as an athlete. Not to mention that down the line there is the possibility of college scholarships, and financial rewards at a pro level!
The key is understanding and managing the risk to your child against the benefits of playing sports. For most kids, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. But if your child repeatedly suffers a concussion and returns to play before allowing the brain to heal properly, than the scales can become tipped towards too much risk…. and it is your job as a parent to make the decision that keeps your child safe.
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Sharon Rowley writes daily for her site: Momof6, where she shares tips for Moms on organizing your home, your schedule, your household routines, and your busy life! Sharon is also a regular contributor at iVillage.com.