Home » Blog » Brooke De Lench » "Friday Night Tykes": Episode 3


Friday Night Tykes As was the case with the two-hour premiere last Tuesday, last night's episode of "Friday Night Tykes" on the Esquire Network continued to be "must see" television for youth football parents for its educational value. Here are some of the safety issues it raised, with links to MomsTEAM content for further reading:

Tackling.  It was nice to hear one of the coaches remind his players to "wrap up" opponents when tackling and not to put their heads down. Heads Up tackling may not prevent all concussions, and, as a recent episode of ESPN's "Outside The Lines" demonstrated, its effacy has been vigorously debated, but there is no doubt in my mind that teaching youth football players proper tackling technique and constantly reminding them not to lead with their heads is and will, over the long run, reduce the number of concussions and catastrophic neck and spine injuries.

Pop Warner football

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Return to play.  It was also good to hear the parents of a player who had suffered a concussion involving loss of consciousness and amnesia tell their son that he was not allowed to practice with his teammates, that the subject was "not debatable," that he had to "take a break" to allow his brain to heal, and that they had told their kids that they would not be allowed to play football after suffering three concussions (although experts say there is no magic number of concussions that should end a football player's career). I winced, however, when the father said at the same time that the concussion that sent him to the hospital was "not a big deal."  

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Sideline evaluation of head injury.  When a player got knocked cold during the game, it was the coach who ran out on the field to evaluate the seriousness of his injury.  Despite the fact that the player told him he had hurt his back (which raised at least the possibility of a serious spine injury), the coach allowed the player to get up and leave the field.  I'm not an athletic trainer or a doctor, but it didn't seem to me, based on what I know about the evaluation of head, neck and spine injuries, that the evaluation was anything close to adequate to rule out a spinal injury (all the coach did was to ask him to move his legs). My question, as it was after watching the premiere, was why, in a league that spends as much money as it does on uniforms, equipment, and manicured fields, don't they have an athletic trainer or doctor on the sideline at every game??

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Play through pain culture.  One of the recurring themes of the series is the degree to which the coaches and the parents attempt to inculcate the players into the "no pain, no gain," play-through-injury culture that has characterized contact and collision sports from the beginning of time. Once again, we heard a coach say, "I could care less if they cry."  When a player gets so nauseous that he throws up, the coach's response is to demean him by asking whether he was out of shape.  A player who comes to the sideline holding an injured hand is told to "shake it off and finish the game."  

A lot has been written about how the culture of youth sports needs to change if we are to combat the chronic problem of under-reporting of concussions, and how changing the culture needs to start with the next generation of coaches and players.  

As a recent study noted, coaches play a "pivotal role" in determining whether athletes reported concussive symptoms. Regardless of sport or gender, many athletes, found researchers from Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington, "felt that they were expected to play injured. Unless the coach made it clear that an athlete needed to report symptoms of concussion, it was perceived to be unacceptable to come out because of a 'headache' or 'dizziness' [because] athletes did not want to be wrong about being concussed and suffer negative consequences" such as being punished by the coach for reporting concussive symptoms "by removing them from a starting position, reducing their future playing time, or inferring that reporting concussive symptoms made them 'weak.'"  

If the teams being profiled in Friday Night Tykes are in any way typical of coaches in the rest of the country and in other contact and collision sports (and, I'm afraid to say, it may well be that they are), looking to a change in the culture may be like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. 

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Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of the MomsTEAM Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports, and Producer/Director/Creator of the PBS concussion documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer."  She can be reached by email at delench@momsteam.com and you can follower her on Twitter @brookedelench.