This is another in the guest posts I have received from various sources. Once again I am not endorsing Chartis, rather providing what I feel is a very good article on the safety of kids in sports.
Keeping Kids Safe in All Types of Sports
By Dr. William Spangler
When you hear about concussions and head injuries in youth sports, football and hockey typically come to mind. Increasingly, coaches, parents and athletes all across the nation have grown increasingly attuned to the risks associated with these sports and the paramount need for safety protocols during both practices and games.
When it comes to non-contact sports, however, the risks for concussions and other injuries are often overlooked. Activities such as cheerleading, gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, and skiing—to name a few—have considerable potential for serious head injuries. In fact, the sport of cheerleading, with its daring stunts and busy, year-round practice schedules, has become the leading cause of catastrophic injury in young female athletes, according to the 29th Annual Report from the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
While cheerleading and other non-contact sports may not require the same level of protective equipment as do football and hockey, it is essential that coaches, family members, and young athletes alike are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions and possess the know-how to respond appropriately should such signs and symptoms occur.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when working with youth athletes participating in all kind of sports, including non-contact sports:
Have the services of an athletic trainer available.
In any sport involving younger children that has regular practices and meets, someone with athletic training—like the local high school or college coach—should be available to offer guidance on safety protocols. An athletic trainer and experienced coach can also be consulted if an injury has occurred. If no one is available immediately, and a concussion is even suspected in a child, that child should be taken to a local emergency room department for examination and then followed up for assessment by the family physician.
Discuss safety with the parents and kids.
Parents and kids need to understand the signs and symptoms associated with sports injuries such as concussions, where headache, nausea, lightheadedness, and sensitivity to light and sound are common. Because most people who suffer concussions do not lose consciousness, parents need to understand that a blow to the head cannot just be overlooked and kids can’t just “walk it off” or “tough it out.” Concussions and head injuries can be serious, especially with growing children whose brains are still developing and who may be more vulnerable to long-lasting complications.
Consider grouping kids by size, not just age.
It is common for many sports leagues to group kids according to age. We must also keep in mind that children of the same age often grow at vastly different rates. For example, an 8-year-old boy can weigh 50 lbs., while another can weigh 70 lbs., and another could weigh 100 lbs. Leagues should consider grouping by size and weight classification so that similarly-sized kids play with one another, similar to the way boxers are classified in the ring. This way, there is more of an equal playing field for the children of different sizes.
Dr. William Spangler is the spokesperson and physician for Chartis’ aHead of the Game campaign, which seeks to inform the public about the dangers of concussions in youth sports. In addition, Dr. Spangler serves as the team emergency physician for the NFL’s Houston Texans. He is board certified in emergency medicine, with 25 years of experience in this medical specialty. The website for aHead of the Game is www.chartisinsurance.com/aheadofthegame/.
“any sport involving younger children that has regular practices and meets, someone with athletic training—like the local high school or college coach—should be available to offer guidance on safety protocols”
Youth sports, especially those in rural areas face various resources limitations (such as lack of adequate funds, trained personnel, and access to experienced medical professionals). I think these programs might need to take additional steps to those suggested to ensure they have adequate safety protocols. For instance, what if the local high school coach either isn’t adequately trained or doesn’t have the time to assist a youth league? (To be honest, I’m a little concerned about the interchangeable reference to an athletic trainer or experienced high school coach for checking injuries – some high school coaches are still pretty old school, especially when it comes to head injuries.)
I don’t want to see impossible hurdles established for youth sports, however, I fear at this point our standards are still much too low. There are unique concerns with injuries in younger children (such as growth plates, delayed symptoms for concussions, and communication issues). I don’t understand how your average high school coach, whose plate is often already loaded with other responsibilities, can be expected to provide advice on safety protocols or injuries. Many of these coaches may still mistakenly believe that injuries at the youth level are not as much of a concern as they are at higher levels. I constantly read articles which continue to state that little kids don’t hit as hard at the lower levels, and that concussions are not as much of a concern.
In my particular situation, when I contacted our high school coach with safety concerns about our youth program, he essentially explained that he was very busy and that since the coaches were volunteers, I shouldn’t expect that much from them. So just based on my experience, I would say to think twice about putting safety protocols and injury assessment into the hands of a high school coach.
Excellent points or recommendations, Dr. Spangler, regarding instituting certified trainers for all activities, grouping child athletes by like sizes (and abilities), and educating parents on real risks and outcomes.
However, you should closely examine the dubious legend that cheerleading produces higher rates of catastrophic injury than tackle football, and you certainly quote the unreliable source, the invalid Mueller-Cantu studies at UNC. Even within the football researchers’ limited, insufficient definition of catastrophic injury–damages to brain, skull, spinal cord and/or vertebral column–they miss a multitude of cases simply available to them in Google. In addition, information limitations on football injuries in general badly affect accurate reporting. Finally, epidemiology of football injury in American football isn’t remotely possible. See my extensive reporting and hundreds of catastrophic injury cases in American football from 2009-11 at ChaneysBlog.com. Better yet, consult Dr. Cantu and Prof. Mueller yourself and please report back, since they refuse to answer any of my vital questions for their faulty work since the 1980s together, and Mueller’s previous to that.
Matt Chaney is my and should be everyone’s go to source on cataloging of catastrophic injuries in football. He does superior work to anyone else in this area.
A slowly evolving societal awareness of:
– the existence of denial,
– significant conflicts of interest and
– apparent deliberate deception
within concussion research, assessment & management of sport-related concussions (SRCs) is presently occurring.
Matt’s demonstrated online / internet search & research skills re sport injuries is assisting to educate those who desire to make informed decisions re some of the above issues.
Grouping kids by size is definitely a worthwhile suggestion, but might be difficult for leagues to implement. What if a 10 year old boy wanted to play football for the first time? He might be big enough to play with 12 year olds but he doesn’t have the skill to do so. It’s not an easy situation to work through.
Agreed, Ms. Murphy. I don’t see classifying football kids by size and/or skill as anything feasible yet, particularly for the mass of uncontrollable juvenile football we have going on in this country, and it probably wouldn’t fundamentally change anything much of risk and outcome, anyway. For myself, after some 20 years in the study and writing of football drug abuse–not to mention my previous testosterone injections, as a college player–a plan to institute size limits per individual frame, based on a human mass-indexing scale, was about the only option I could find in potentially legit anti-doping. Moreover, theoretically, size limits as anti-doping would only ‘cap’ use of anabolics in the game, an entrenched problem like the genetic violence and brutal outcomes. Long-short, I’ve never waved around size limits as accomplishing much for modern football crisis, and avoided doing so at expense of promoting my book Spiral of Denial. However, in a dramatically reformed, privatized football model below the pro level, brought under strict regulation with costly pay-to-play and populated by elite or talented athletes (and top coaches, trainers, sports docs, administrators), size limits as part of a battery of measures may prove feasible and effective in helping counter risks. Tackle football is only proper perhaps for a small margin of the youth or juvenile population, if that, and assuredly never ‘safe.’
I heart Matt Chaney!