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

Lack of concussion education

My son's bantam football league did not provide parents or players with any information about concussions signs, symptoms, or the importance of not practicing or playing with a concussion. I never saw coaches check any of the players after hard hits, and players were encouraged to hit as hard as possible during tackle drills.

The lack of a program-wide concussion awareness, training, and management program appears unexplainable in light of a serious head injury suffered by a local high school player during a Friday night home football game in 2009 that required transport via Life Star helicopter to a regional medical center (an injury from which, thankfully, he has fully recovered).

Youth programs that participate in USA Football or Pop Warner provide concussion information to parents, players, and coaches. A football coach from a local parochial school with whom I recently spoke said that his program has been providing concussion information for the past two years under a concussion policy developed by the CYO with St. Vincent Sports Performance).

Failure to follow recommended concussion safety guidelines

My son's bantam program failed to follow any of the recommendations of concussion experts, such as the "7 Steps for Brain Safety" promoted by the Sports Legacy Institute. The guidelines are simple and free, so that they can be readily adopted by any youth sports program. One of the simplest steps involves reducing the amount of time spent on full-contact drills, especially for younger players, who are more at risk of long-term brain injury from repeated sub-concussive blows to the head than teens or young adults.

The bantam program also doesn't follow any of the safety guidelines recommended by MomsTeam founder and long time sports safety advocate, Brooke de Lench. Her 12-point concussion safety checklist establishes "goals towards which all of your youth sports programs should work. Implementing even one," de Lench says, will reduce the number and severity of concussions. Adopting and following them all, while it won't make youth sports a concussion-free zone, will make the sport as safe as it can reasonably be."

USA Football and appropriate training of coaches

I attribute most of the problems at practice to a lack of appropriate training, procedures, protocols, guidance, and oversight. Bantam coaches tend to be fathers who volunteer for their sons' teams. They cycle through the program as their sons progress. New coaches are added to the program on a regular basis. These coaches need training and support, and the program needs to be monitored by school personnel to prevent over-zealous coaches from harming children.

School systems lacking the resources to train volunteer coaches could benefit from working with USA Football. Their online resources provide information on health and safety issues such as concussion awareness, equipment fitting, injury prevention, and heat and hydration (some of the issues addressed in the recent National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement entitled "Preventing Sudden Death in Sports").  Based on the cost information provided by one of their representatives, membership is affordable for both coaches and players. After successful completion of their on-line certification course, coaches can obtain a $1 Million General Liability policy good for twelve months from the date they complete the course.