Much was reported in the news this year about concussion and youth sports, particularly football.
As a primary care and sports medicine physician, I treat dozens of athletes on a weekly basis from middle school to the elite across all sports. Concussions can occur in virtually every activity or sport. In fact, few realize that more children sustain traumatic brain injuries while riding bikes than playing any single sport. Concussion is not a boy issue or a girl issue – it’s a sport issue. Greater yet, it is a society awareness issue.
With an encouraging amount of concussion awareness in sports, there has never been a greater responsibility for coaches to get the right training, to teach the right technique and to do it consistently.
Scant media coverage was given to the recent Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport, which took place in Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 1-2. This is an international summit conducted every four years, attended by the world’s leading doctors in this area of expertise.
The conclusions may surprise some.
While medical experts agree with making sports safer, there is no consensus on setting a fixed age for when children should be allowed to play football or other contact sports.
A panel of six expert doctors spanning three continents was unanimous on several points to advance athlete safety in youth sports:
- Teach youth athletes proper techniques and fundamentals of their respective sports;
- Teach coaches, parents and youth athletes effective concussion recognition and response; and
- Continue research to learn the types and magnitudes of head forces for specific ages and sports to better understand the threshold of concussion.
More research is needed to understand the risk of contact as it relates to sports concussion – both in the short and long term. We’re rapidly learning more and we need to do so. In the interim, it is imperative more sports pay attention to strengthening player safety.
USA Football, for example, has implemented numerous initiatives in its quest for improved player safety. Through its skill-development events along with a third-party accredited online coaching education program, USA Football teaches the game’s fundamentals with player safety at the forefront to lessen the chance for concussion and injury.
Such steps are needed to teach youth sports better and safer techniques and they need to become the norm, just as we’ve over time treated safety in cars (seat belts) and on bikes (helmets).
Learning a sport’s fundamentals and proper mechanics reduces the chance for injury. These are ingredients for a better, safer sports experience.
Dr. Patrick Kersey is a physician for St.Vincent Sports Performance, the official sports medicine and performance partner of USA Football, and a team physician for the Indianapolis Colts. He also is medical director for USA Football and its Football and Wellness Committee.