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Mom On A Mission

Extending Concussion Safety Laws To Cover All Youth Sports Programs Essential, Says Sharon van Kooten of Indiana

Lack of Oversight

After doing some research on concussions and the dangers of sub-concussive hits, I became worried about the other boys on my son's team. I knew many of them had taken hard hits at practice, and that they hadn't been told to report headaches or other concussion symptoms. Some, like my son, may have had no idea about any concussion signs or symptoms. I wrote a letter to the football coach at the local high school to share my concerns.

When another boy sustained a concussion, I contacted the Superintendent of Schools. He told me he had been assured by the school district's attorney that their agreement with the bantam program shielded them from any liability other than for inadequate facility maintenance. He said it was the parent's responsibility to determine if a sports program was appropriate for their child and told me to take my concerns to the bantam board. Considering that parents weren't provided with any concussion information or even a roster of players, including their weights, ages, and experience levels, I'm not certain how parents were expected to make such a determination. Based on the number of players who were seriously injured and the emphasis placed on hard hits, I don't believe my son's team was appropriate for any child.

Failure to minimize risks

From what I've learned since my son's injury, I believe the bantam program was run in a manner which was conducive to injuries. My inexperienced son was placed on a team with players who had much more experience. Experience discrepancies made practice difficult for the volunteer coaches to manage. Two-hour full contact practices were scheduled for three nights a week. The third and fourth graders scrimmaged the fifth and sixth graders. Often, two games were scheduled for Saturday, with the second game being against a fresh team.

I didn't see the coaches spending much time instructing players how to tackle. Most practices were spent running the boys through the same tackle drill, with little to no feedback, except encouragement for hard hits. One coach often said "hit them so they can feel it." If a boy made a mistake and forgot to stay low and got hurt, then he would say "that's why you stay low."

Helmets weren't properly fitted or regularly checked. According to the helmet fitting instructions at the USA Football web site, the helmet provided to my son was one size too large. My son's chin strap only had two attachment snaps rather than the recommended four. Parents and players were never instructed to check helmets for proper air inflation. It was only after the third concussion that helmets were checked for proper inflation.

A recent study indicates that a properly fitted football helmet is critical to minimize the risk of concussion and catastrophic brain injury. Based on the study's findings, "air bladder helmet liners pose an increased risk of catastrophic intracranial brain injury (subdural hematoma/cerebral edema), with 84% of the injuries of this type occurring between 1989 and 2001 involving air bladder helmets."

According to one of the study's authors, Joseph Torg, M.D. :

As we look at preventing concussions and minimizing risk, it is important to realize that it is the responsibility of the athletic director and head football coach to have policies that: Insure that each player has a properly fitted helmet and that a responsible adult supervises and oversees proper helmet air bladder inflation on a weekly basis.