The dark culture of youth sports
When coaches, parents and school administrators have a great deal invested in the performance of their student-athletes and the team’s win/loss ratio, it can affect the decisions that are made about a player returning too quickly to a game after an injury. Sometimes even the communities whose members come out in droves on autumn Friday nights to watch gridiron battles between rival schools exercise a subtle pressure on student-athletes to excel at all costs.
But when that pressure can cause serious, long-term health consequences — and in some cases, even death — to student-athletes, it must be mitigated by wise decisions made in the best interest of the athletes. But changing the culture of youth and high school athletics is a challenge, especially when much of it is modeled on professional sports. Some of the negative comments young athletes hear from authority figures may include:
- “Play through your pain.”
- “Suck it up.”
- “If you can’t play, someone is ready to take your place.”
Words carry weight, and the gravitas of those phrases coming from a coach or other authority figure can have a devastating effect on a young player struggling to please his or her role models and mentors.
Knowledge leads to concussion protocols changing
Some school districts in the United States have begun stepping up to the plate and becoming proactive at monitoring their injured student-athletes for signs of concussion, which is one form of traumatic brain injury. An innovative partnership has been formed between the University of Miami and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools regarding the awareness, treatment, and prevention of concussions for the 12,000 student-athletes in Dade County.
The school system and UM are working together to document and treat all the concussions suffered by student-athletes in any sport played in all of the 36 public high schools. Four years into the project, nearly 600 concussions are on record. Last year alone, almost 200 concussions got reported, and the study showed that repercussions from these injuries can affect kids academically for weeks.
Some broad trends are already emerging. By far, the sport with the greatest number of reported concussions is football, with approximately 70 percent of the total occurring to players of that sport. Of those players, linebackers were at the greatest risk of suffering concussions, followed closed by wide receivers.
Sports that ranked second and third for the rate of concussions were soccer and basketball, respectively. Female athletes suffer concussions at a higher rate than their male counterparts, and a disturbing trend was revealed — there was an alarming 160 percent uptick in the number of concussive blows to those participating in girls’ sports for the Miami study, up from 15 in the initial year to 39 last year.
Mitigating the effects of a concussion in student-athletes
Coaches, medical professionals, and parents all must share the responsibility of recognizing the signs of concussion, treating these dangerous head injuries properly, and protecting student-athletes from further damage by prohibiting them from returning to play too soon after a concussive blow.
Doctors acknowledge that each child’s concussion will be different, and not all children display the same aggregate of symptoms. Consider these four categories of potential concussion indicators.
- Physical – Inability to tolerate noise or light, nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
- Mental – Problems remembering, confusion, trouble concentrating.
- Behavioral- Anxiousness, irritability, nervousness, sadness and anger.
- Sleep habits – Changes in sleeping habits, e.g., sleeping much more than normal or having trouble sleeping.
Parents, of course, will have special insight into whether a concussion caused many of the above symptoms in their injured children. Their opinions should be taken into consideration when determining fitness for return-to-play.
But there are some steps that athletic directors, coaches, and trainers should be taking to identify concussions in student-athletes, and one of those is baseline testing.
Did your student-athlete get baseline testing done?
It can be exceedingly difficult to assess an athlete’s recovery after suffering a concussion without having records of baseline testing to compare their physical abilities and mental acumen. Knowing where they stood prior to their injury can be an invaluable tool for concussion management of student-athletes.
Typical baseline testing could include some or all of the following:
- Grip strength
- Ability to problem solve
- Visual processing
- Attention span
Baseline testing should be done in a controlled, supervised environment in order to be reliable. There is also a Sports Concussion Assessment Tool that can be used post-injury on athletes 13 and older by first responders and health care professionals to evaluate an injured player’s recovery and return-to-play status.
The International Conference on Concussion in Sport recommends a six-step protocol for return-to-play:
- Total rest
- Light exercise, e.g., walking
- More strenuous activity, e.g., running
- Non-contact training
- Full contact training
A minimum of 24 hours should lapse between each of the steps, with progression to the next contingent upon there being no problems with the previous step. An additional medical examination should be done between the fourth and fifth steps, experts recommend.
Protecting kids’ brains after trauma
As you can see, there are many important components to the management of a sports-related concussion. School officials, coaches, trainers, medical professionals, and parents all have roles in determining the course of recovery for a student-athlete recovering from a brain injury.
If your child suffered a concussion playing sports due to negligence on the part of the coaching staff or others in authority, or if the injury was improperly assessed, evaluated or treated, causing a worsening of the condition, you may have a cause of action for a civil suit. The attorneys at Shrader and Associates, LLP can answer your questions during a confidential consultation. Call (713) 787-3733 today to learn more.