The research is starting to come in; the problem is that results and conclusions bring more questions that should be answered. Naturally some will look at early evidence and make a 180 degree change on their attitudes about certain things. We are talking about concussions and the research associated with it. Unfortunately there is plenty of anecdotal and observational cases that sear into our memory, this perhaps shape our thought process. Along with that there is gathering evidence that supports some sort of process change in how we handle this particular injury.
The need to make change is upon us, that cannot be debated; what can be debated is how or what the changes should be. I recently read an article where Micky Collins of UPMC said something to the effect of current concussion concern is like a pendulum that has swung all the way to the other side. Although the changes in sports and activities has certainly not taken that full swing the other way, the pendulum is on the way. His feelings, like mine is that there is no evidence to suggest that a full swing to the other side is warranted, rather there needs to be competent and complete understanding of what we are facing. Rather than making full sweeping changes that would be akin to digging up your backyard to rid your self of a mole; when placing traps and poisons and maybe only having to dig up a small section would fix the problem.
There are definitely things we can do as parents, players, coaches, researchers, doctors and concerned people in general to make a dent in the issue. If we find that the changes are not working then taking another aggressive step may be necessary. I guess the reason for the above rant is to reinforce the need for changes, but the right changes. (As I wrote the last sentence I realized how do we know if the changes are the “right” ones; I guess we don’t but certainly what is happening now needs attention).
One of the small changes that can be made is very obvious to me; limiting head trauma as much as possible while still enjoying the sport and activities we love. This was reiterated by Dr. Robert Cantu in a piece written by Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel (part of a special series in the Sun Sentinel);
“It’s risk vs. reward,” said Cantu, a co-director at the center. “I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking if it can lead to CTE. Youngsters shouldn’t make decisions for themselves if they can’t understand the ramification of head trauma. They shouldn’t be subjected to it.”[…]
“It’s controversial, no question but weekly, I see these kids who have been injured and I see individuals with CTE at an early age,” Cantu said. “I think it calls for more thought and reflection. We have pitch counts for Little League [baseball] players. That’s to prevent a ligament injury that is repairable. But we don’t have hit counts to the head of children playing youth sports and there’s no cure if they develop early signs of CTE. I think we need to rethink how we play sports and the way we look at them.”
Dr. Cantu is once again speaking about his belief that collision sports as they are played should be limited to older individuals, his age cutoff is 14 or freshman year in high school. Along with the full contact sports he also advocates removing heading from soccer; the reasoning is that less head trauma at a younger age can only benefit brain health down the line. It is an opinion that I share and advocate as well.
Sports are a necessary part of this world, if for nothing else to provide places where our ever-growing sedentary youth can be physically active and combat the expanding waistlines or for a positive outlet for those that need to be doing something positive with their time. We as the protectors of our youth and children must make it safe.
If you add taking currently constructed collision sports out for the young with limiting contact through adolescents (like the proposals presented here) we have already created a culture change that will be better for everyone, and guess what it all costs NOTHING. The only other logical next step to do without radically changing the sporting world in which we live is to get Certified Athletic Trainers at all events that include full collisions. This last idea not only helps with the concussion issue but it addresses all the injuries that can be associated with sports in general.
The moral of the story is that we do need to make changes for the safety of our youth, however we must make informed decisions not radical processes that would throw the baby out with the bath water.