Reducing concussions in youth and high school sports

Reducing concussions in youth and high school sports

A new school year is underway, which means a new year of football, which means a new year of worrying for parents of young athletes. Their main worry: concussion.

Fortunately, there are new guidelines, developed by the state Department of Education, designed to “prevent concussions and to help our coaches, student-athletes, parents and guardians understand the risks, identify the symptoms, and properly manage the concussion,” according to State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo.

The old attitude — play through the pain — is outmoded and dangerous, Bartolomeo said, because a concussion can have long-term effects, especially among young athletes, especially if there are repeat concussions within a short period of time.

Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni also endorsed the new guidelines, which are supported by the National Football League. Parents must give signed consent before any school athletic activity, coaches will be trained on concussion protocol, and parents must be notified within 24 hours after their child suffers a concussion.

All of this is certainly good news.

“For us, our primary objective is to keep our students safe,” Benigni said.

But is it enough? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes concussion as “a type of traumatic brain injury that can have a serious effect on a young, developing brain.” Its symptoms can last “for days, weeks, or even months.”

A repeat concussion before the brain heals from the first can lead to long-term problems such as “changes in how the child or teen thinks, feels, and acts, as well as their ability to learn and remember.” In rare cases, it can be much worse.

In most states, participation in high school football has been flat or declining in recent years, even where the population is increasing.

This seems to indicate increasing trepidation on the part of parents, and players, over safety issues.

Many states, like Connecticut, have passed new laws intended to protect student-athletes from concussion injuries.

But is it enough? There is also something available called the King-Devick Test, which enjoys some support (Notre Dame uses it; the NFL does not, but is studying it.)

The test is easily administered, on the sidelines, by non-professionals after minimal training. It measures a player’s perception, after a possible concussion, against a baseline test that has already been administered to each player by a medical professional.

Coaches and parents can administer the King-Devick Test to a youth or high school athlete after a minimum of instruction, according to an article in USA Today.

“Youth athletes are at a higher risk for concussion and a longer recovery time than adults,” said David Dodick, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and director of the clinic’s concussion program. “Studies have indicated that the King-Devick Test is an effective tool for the real-time evaluation of concussion because it looks at rapid eye movement and attention — both are affected by concussions. … Most importantly, the test is affordable and can easily be used by any youth sports league, and administered by non-medical personnel.”

Another way to drastically reduce the incidence of concussion in youth and high school sports, of course, would be to ban football altogether.

However, we aren’t advocating that kind of drastic move.

But the stakes could hardly be higher. Perhaps the King-Devick Test is something all youth and high school football programs should explore.


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