I am honored and privileged to post an article from Will Carroll regarding concussions. I thank Will very much for his time and contribution!
Changing The Culture
Will Carroll for The Concussion Blog
It’s a quiet, warm Saturday morning in July. Coming up to the Colts Complex on the west side of Indianapolis, it’s normal to see players walking in. It’s not normal for them to be nine years old.
USA Football is rolling out what amounts to a pilot program they are calling the “Protection Tour.” It’s a multi-part seminar for kids, coaches and parents that focus on the concussion issue. Sponsored in part by the NFL, it’s easy to see why they chose this program. USA Football isn’t the typical governing body. They don’t have any form of control over the largest programs, the NFL and NCAA. They don’t even hold any sway over scholastic programs. They’re more a lobbying organization, taking hold of “should bes” like coaching standards and player safety.
The Protection Tour is made of up of three “stations”. In the first and perhaps most important, coaches and players are shown tackling drills that emphasize old fashioned concepts like shoulder contact, athletic position, and wrapping up. These kinds of hits won’t make SportsCenter, but they are safer for everyone. There’s an emphasis here on getting to the younger players. USA Football President Scott Hallenbeck doesn’t have unreasonable expectations. “We’re not going to change Troy Polamalu,” he explained, “but we can get to kids from 8 to 10 and make a difference. We can start changing the culture.”
The kids are also checked for helmet fit, an important point that is often overlooked in many youth leagues. While the focus has been on helmet design and the controversial practice of reconditioning, simply getting the fit right can help reduce risk. Helmet manufacturer Riddell sent representatives to help teach coaches and parents how to help get and keep the proper fit. They made important points about regularly checking the fit, since simple things like haircuts, sweat, and maintenance can change the fit. Riddell did a nice job of keeping things general; it never turned into a sales pitch.
The final station was for the parents. USA Football’s medical director Patrick Kersey gave a nice presentation regarding concussions. While he avoided the technical, Kersey was very positive about the progress being made. One of the points he drove home was that while concussions are very serious, when treated properly there is a high return rate. Kersey focused on recognizing any symptoms, making sure that medical personnel were involved quickly, and that caution is required. For a developing brain, concussions require even more rest. “The culture is against waiting,” Kersey explained to me after his presentation, “but a week or two weeks of rest is nothing considering the consequences if we don’t allow the brain to heal.”
After the presentation, Kersey took some questions from parents and I was very interested in hearing what these involved parents would ask. It’s clear that they’re looking for a technological solution. Two parents asked about accelerometers and whether new chin straps that include them could help. Kersey was non-committal on these, as the research is sparse, but he too is hoping new technologies will help. Another parent asked whether the pediatrician was the appropriate place to take their child. Kersey pointed her to a list of trained physicians — this is an Indiana-specific list, but I’m sure there is similar in each state — which is an important resource for most parents. There were questions about ImPACT testing – which is provided without cost in Indianapolis by St. Vincent Sports Performance – and about which helmet Kersey preferred.
That latter discussion brought up some interesting points. I’m a clear advocate of new technology, but aside from the Simpson helmet that was tested last season, there’s limited changes in helmet technology and no new entrants to the market. I pointed to a series of banners showing a number of great Colts players and asked Kersey if he saw a major change between the helmets of Raymond Berry, Eric Dickerson, and Peyton Manning. Clearly, that’s an oversimplification, but there’s very little change to the basic design, internally and externally, to the football helmet. Worse, there’s little incentive for companies to enter the market, especially with lawsuits flying in every direction.
The Protection Tour stop was a great first step and a nice first step in tackling – no pun intended – this issue. I can see this expanding quickly, with the NFL leading the way. Part of the draw to this event was, no doubt, the chance for kids to play in the Colts training facility. There are 31 other places just like this around the country. There are more if you include high level colleges or even high schools. Education is the first step in changing the culture of football and saving it from what some think is possible extinction from fear of injury and lawsuits. It will be interesting to see if the NFL leads the way in expanding this worthwhile program.