A group reached out to us recently to present something they are doing to help with the awareness issue. This is a common occurrence in the TCB Mailbag, however rarely do you get to see them, call it screening, as I do not want to promote just to promote, I believe that if you have a good product, plan, or story you can get on the blog.
When Chartis, an insurance company approached us they had a unique way to get their message across, a first person account from a former professional athlete. Keeping with the hockey theme I present you Nathan LaFayette and his story about concussions, as part of a promotion for aHead of the Game®. An initiative to reduce the risks of concussions and other head injuries in youth sports. Through greater awareness and education, we want to help coaches, parents and young athletes learn signs and symptoms of concussions, seek proper treatment and follow appropriate return to play protocols to avoid the significant dangers of multiple concussions.
Concussions and Youth Sports:
My Lessons Learned in Pro Hockey
and How We Can Teach Children to Play Smart
By Nathan LaFayette
As the father of a son and daughter who are both active in sports, there are many lessons that I can impart upon my children. I can teach them to play with gusto and verve and give their all every time they are part of a game or match. I can explain the significance of fair play and the joy of being part of a team that joins together for one common goal. And, I can show them how safety, taking care of themselves, and sitting out a game or competition when they have been hurt are more important than winning.
You see, I know firsthand how “toughing it out” when you are really hurt and “getting right back in there for the good of the team” is the wrong approach. I know how “having your bell rung” and being dizzy and dazed are serious conditions and can change you forever. I know this because repeated concussions ended my career as a professional hockey player 12 years ago when I was just 26 years old. And, while that is certainly very traumatic as an adult, keep in mind that the consequences of concussions in youth sports are that much more dire.
My story is not unique for those in the professional sports world, but certainly life-altering. I played for several teams during my years in the NHL – the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, and the Los Angeles Kings. Back then, in the early 1990s, team doctors couldn’t always identify when a hockey player suffered a concussion. The protocols, baseline testing, and overall awareness of the danger of concussions that we see today just didn’t exist. If the doctors couldn’t always properly identify if a concussion occurred or not, then athletes like myself who didn’t have a medical background certainly wouldn’t know if they had a serious brain injury.
While playing for the Los Angeles Kings, I suffered what I believe now were two concussions in one game. After the first time I was hit, I was moving slowly and was just not myself. But, I stayed in the game. After the second blow, I felt even more sluggish and my short-term memory had lapsed a bit. I was also extremely sensitive to light and sound – which are classic concussion symptoms. Over the next week or so after that game, I realized that I wasn’t going to shake this off so easily. Even something as basic for an athlete as getting on an exercise bike caused me to become physically ill.
I stayed off the ice for six weeks, giving myself some time to recuperate. But, I knew that something was wrong. I sustained another concussion in the next season, and realized that I still had not fully recovered from the previous incidents. I went through 18 months of being unable to tolerate loud noises or light and feeling like I had a 24-hour-a-day migraine headache. It was, at that point, that the team doctor said that I was no longer cleared to play hockey. Had doctors known what they know today, had the first blow the previous year been identified as a concussion, and had I been removed from the game after that very first concussion, it might have made all the difference in my career – not to mention the unknown of how I would do later in life.
Now, if these concussions had such a profound effect on my health as an adult, one can only imagine the danger that they pose to young athletes whose brains and bodies are still developing. A concussion is not just a “knock in the head,” as it used to be thought.” It is a brain injury that can impact a person’s physical health and cognitive abilities for years to come.
Fortunately, pro sports organizations like the NFL and NHL now have instituted much more stringent guidelines for immediately removing players from games if a concussion is even suspected, and not allowing players to return to the game until a doctor has cleared them. This trickle-down effect has been seen in the college, high school, and even youth organization worlds.
But, there is still much to be done when it comes to educating coaches and athletic directors on the impact of concussions on children who participate in sports teams. Concussions in heavy contact activities like football, hockey, and boxing these days receive a great deal of attention in the press, and that’s great. But, many of our youngest athletes also compete in sports such as lacrosse, swimming, cheerleading, gymnastics, skiing, and bicycling, to name a few – where the threat of a brain injury most definitely exists. These sports also deserve our attention and need to utilize baseline testing and adequate return-to-play protocols when concussions are even suspected in our youngest of athletes. This must be our credo as parents, coaches, team managers, and camp and athletic directors.
I made peace with myself and the decision to leave professional hockey once and for all. I can now educate our clients at Chartis through our aHead of the Game program, which promotes awareness of the dangers of concussions in youth sports. And, as a dad, I can impart my knowledge on 8-year-old Hudson, who plays hockey and baseball, and 10-year-old Piper, who plays softball and competes in downhill skiing. My life and my story can serve as a lesson to them, and for that, I am most grateful.
Nathan LaFayette is senior vice president, specialty markets, of the Accident & Health division of Chartis. He is a spokesperson for Chartis’ aHead of the Game campaign, which seeks to inform the public about the dangers of concussions in youth sports. The website for aHead of the Game is www.chartisinsurance.com/aheadofthegame/.
Full disclosure, I have been given nothing to present this article to you, nor do I endorse Chartis Insurance.