New York City – January 28, 2014 – Yesterday, TCB posted the announcement by the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) regarding the launch of the Hit Count® certification program after two years of development. Occasional guest poster Dorothy Bedford attended the press conference and filed this report from the Super Bowl Media Center at the New York Sheraton.
The announcement was attended by several dozen members of the print and broadcast press corps, and other interested parties. In addition to the featured speakers, representatives of several Hit Count sensor device companies were on hand, including g-Force Tracker of Toronto; ImpaKt Protective (Shockbox) of Ottawa; and MC 10 (Checklight by Reebok). Commentary from Dr. Gerald Gioia, Dr. Blaine Hoshizaki, Chris Nowinski and former NFLers Mikes Haynes and Ted Johnson was supplemented by observations from Riverdale Country School (NYC) Athletic Director John Pizzi (RCS was a beta test site for one sensor) about the sensors’ real-time on-the-field utility, from parent Andrea Lustig, mother of a concussion victim, and from Paul Walker, a co-founder of g-Force Tracker. Presented in the context of football’s marquee event, the new sensors will nevertheless also provide equally good information for other contact sports including boys and girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls ice hockey, and others (involving headgear or not), as revealed in the Q&A. The Q&A was extensive, so the session unexpectedly ran 90 minutes.
Although rising injury statistics underscore increased awareness, Nowinski pointed out that most concussions are actually still not diagnosed for youth and high school football players. By using Hit Count ® as a teaching tool, efforts to educate coaches and modify players’ behavior can be focused where they can do the most good. “The sensoring technology is critical,” said Nowinski, “finally, the hits can be accurately counted and forces measured. We can achieve apples-to-apples comparison.” Nowinski also thanked the six founding Hit Count ® sponsors for stepping up to the technical challenges presented by the concept of sensoring hits.
Dr. Blaine Hoshizaki, director of the Neurotrauma Lab at the University of Ottawa, explained some of the technical details behind the certification criteria, which include nine different types of impacts. The criteria were set to include as many linear accelerations of the head that may cause brain injury as possible. He also noted that the threshold criteria for rotational impact are not yet part of the Hit Count ® certification, but are still being studied. [Only a few of the new sensors can measure and record rotational forces, whose shearing action on brain tissue has been discussed in the scientific literature.]
Dr Gerald Gioia of Children’s National Medical Center and George Washington University School of Medicine elaborated further. For instance, why was 20 g’s (linear force) set as the threshold for a subconcussive blows? Gioia demonstrated some of the many lesser forces, such as a thump on the back (4g’s), which are very unlikely to cause damage. While most sensors will actually record every hit within each one’s sensitivity range, only those above 20g’s will accumulate into summary reports. Many sensors will also time-stamp hits, so that horse-play and “informal practice” hits can be separated from sports camps, formal team practice and game situations. Gioia further emphasized that Hit Count ® is only in its beginning stages, that there is much more to learn, and that it is only one element in what should be a total effort by all concerned parties in a community to develop comprehensive concussion prevention and management practices. His final point was heart-felt: given that many parents are becoming suspicious of their child’s participation in organized youth sports, one of Hit Count’s ® biggest contributions may be to restore confidence that youth sports can indeed be made safer.
Further commentary from Pizzi, Lustig, Haynes (a youth football coach), and Johnson testified to the high expectations placed on this first version of Hit Count ® to come to market. Pizzi noted that his school’s concussion rate dropped dramatically last year while using the sensors during beta testing; Lustig, whose son is struggling after several ice-hockey concussions, said that conscientious parents need the reassurance that monitoring can bring, and that the ability of coaches to access recorded hit data, after the coach’s attention might have been focused elsewhere will be invaluable.
Walker closed the formal comments by saying, “Two years ago, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our progress to date has been immense, but we can all look forward to further evolution in technology, coaching technique and player behavior as data accumulates and we apply what we learn to future efforts.”
Some Highlights of the Q&A period:
-Sensoring a whole team will not be inexpensive, and my district has a lot of families of modest means who won’t be able to make personal purchases for their players. Any ideas?
Paul Walker of g-Force indicated that team financing packages may be available.
– Is the 20g threshold applicable to girls, with their weaker necks, as well as boys?
YES – the algorithm measures acceleration of the brain, so if one child’s neck “whips” faster than another, that is accounted for. The system also measure duration of a hit, which varies as a function of many elements such as the size and hardness of a ball.
-I hear kids like sensors, because it eliminates the wimp factor and saves face.
YES – initial indications are that kids are relieved that there is hard data for a coach or trainer’s inspection, and that the player isn’t letting teammates down when the sensor says, Stop ! In this regard, Hit Count ® may be a key element to changing the culture of denial.
-My school district won’t be able to afford to put sensors on every player for every practice or game. Are the units interchangeable among players, to be used as a teaching tool or in other focused ways?
-I understand how sensors can fit in a helmet. Aren’t they too big for un-helmeted sports such as soccer?
Sensor size and weight will vary by manufacturer. Some are definitely small and light enough for a headband, such as in soccer or girls’ lacrosse.