Concussions

November 14th, 2011 | By Marjie No Comments

Concussions are a normal topic of discussion around my house. With two sons who coach, umpire and play five sports (each), dinner conversation often centers on sports issues. One of them has experienced a concussion, and one of his college roommates is now prohibited from playing any contact sports for his lifetime due to multiple concussions (see Cooper’s story in this article).

Numbers differ slightly depending on the source, but it’s generally safe to say that about 30 states have concussion laws in place as of press time. Almost a dozen, including Georgia, have no legislation. Laws differ slightly, but basically they require (a) athletes to sign a form stating they received education about concussions, (b) removal of athletes from play after a head injury and/or (c) clearance from a medical professional before the athlete returns to play.

A 35-year veteran coach of four sports said to me, “As a coach, if I suspect a concussion, I know what to do … I take care of the player. I’ve never had a parent insist that their child continue playing. Football rules are evolving to prevent head injuries, but some sports are lagging behind. Coaches are more educated than we were years ago, too, so we can help parents understand the potential severity of such an injury. “

As a former collegiate football player who had a concussion in high school, my youngest son, Clint, said, “Concussions aren’t exact.

You can’t always tell right when it happens that there’s a problem. Trainers and coaches can only guess based on the player’s behavior. We have better equipment, training, strength and conditioning … but we also have more violent collisions. We’re bigger and stronger than ever. So while we are more aware, we may also be more vulnerable.”

My eldest son, Mitch, has coached four years of high school baseball while in college. “I’m bombarded with emails – that’s a good thing – from the athletic association to be sure I’m educated and focused on this issue. In my experience, the trainers on hand did everything possible to be sure players were cared for. There’s no question in my mind that my first priority is the player’s safety, not his or her position on the field or court.”

To advocate for concussion laws in Georgia and other states, go to http://www.safekids.org. You can send a note directly from this site to legislators asking them to take action. You can also call 404-785-7436 to learn more about advocacy from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In the meantime, read about the signs to watch out for if your son or daughter has taken a blow to the head at http://www.box.net/shared/yst9dhkf2420ol45y2tz.

LORALYN

Q: What kind of response (and response time) by your coaches and trainers occurred when you were injured (concussion)?

A: I tried to play it off like I was okay. They looked for a few seconds, then the coaches took me to the trainers … quickly.

Q: Did you think immediately “I have a concussion” … was it easy to tell what was wrong?

A: No. I didn’t think anything was wrong; I thought I got knocked in the head and blacked out a little.

Q: Do you think parents, coaches and students really understand how serious this kind of injury can be if it’s not treated?

A: No. Some of my teammates didn’t take it seriously, but I knew because of health-related classes I’d taken.

Q: Did you feel pressure from your fellow cheerleaders or any coaches to ‘just keep going’ after the injury?

A: No. Just from myself. Everyone else
said no.

Q: Do you think concussions are ‘on the radar’ for cheerleaders and dancers as they are for, say, football players and wrestlers?

A: It is for cheerleading. Cheering is the most dangerous sport for head, neck and back injuries. I did a study for class and learned that.

Q: What can parents, coaches, schools or others do to help better educate students about why they should take concussions seriously?

A: My health instructor and class helped me. Maybe adding the issue to health classes in middle and high school would help. And first aid certification should be required at college level.

COOPER

Q: What kind of response (and response time) by your coaches and trainers occurred when you were injured (concussion)?

A: My coaches and trainers actually couldn’t tell I wasn’t myself until I sought them out to tell them I had a problem.

Q: Did you think immediately “I have a concussion” … what it easy to tell what was wrong?

A: No. When I realized I wasn’t myself, I was halfway through practice and couldn’t remember how I got there. Then it was 9 p.m. and I was in the training room. Of the small flashes I do remember in that nine hour span, it was mostly massive confusion and uncertainty.

Q: What did it feel like when you had your concussions?

A: I was confused, recalling only flashes and fragments in a day’s span, and I’ve never regained most of the memory of that day. I could tell afterward how it had affected me. I had slowed reaction, less dexterity, less coordination and difficulty focusing. It was a physical and mental ‘numbness.’

Q: Do you think parents, coaches and students really understand how serious this kind of injury can be if it’s not treated?

A: It depends. Educated coaches are going to have a lot of knowledge about the injuries their athletes sustain. At higher levels, they want players in top shape. At other levels, coaches are usually tightknit and take personal levels of responsibility for their ‘family.’ Some parents presume their kid can’t be hurt beyond repair; they might encourage them to keep at it and trust the issue to resolve itself. But I think most parents have the kids’ wellbeing in mind, and are especially aware at the college level.
Students are probably the least likely to understand how a serious injury could affect them. We all think we’re immortal, and even if we have a reasonable perspective on our own vulnerability, it’s common for athletes to be stubborn. I know I was, and didn’t want to believe another head injury could give me brain damage (or worse), mostly because I couldn’t accept at the time that football was over for me.

Q: Did you feel pressure from teammates or coaches to ‘just keep going’ after the injury?

A: Not at all. Other players were concussed during the season; they understood what I was going through. As for coaches, safety was the priority when deciding whether an athlete should play or mend. In fact, during our preseason camp, coaches were required to show us a video that highlighted the dangers of head injuries and how to prevent them. My coaches supported me taking time off until I was fully functional again, and my athletic trainer refused reintroduction to the playing field until I was able to pass a concussion test with the same marks or better than I had tested during the preseason mental security test we were required to take.

Q: Do you think concussions are ‘on the radar’ for cheerleaders and dancers as they are for, say, football players and wrestlers?

A: One is at risk of injury in any sport. I think a high contact athlete such as a football or basketball player may be at greater risk of injury simply because they are exposed to it more frequently and for longer periods of time. Cheerleading and dancing present their own dangers. Being thrown in the air or performing a complex acrobatic maneuver has the inherent risk of falling damage or overstrain. Landing on your head from falling off a 10-feet-high human pyramid without a helmet could absolutely end in injury. And their lack of protective equipment puts them at higher risk in the case of an accident or error.

Q: What can parents, coaches, schools or others do to help better educate students about why they should take concussions seriously?

A: I think the most important education needs to happen at the high school level. Those athletes are taught the fundamentals of the game, and pride is a huge factor stressed by both players and coaches. I’m not sure injuries are given the same respect as in college.

Q: Are you concerned you’ll get another concussion?

A: I didn’t think about it too much until I realized, after my last [sixth] one that I had to put the pads up forever. I am no longer able to play in any physical contact sports, so golf is the only collegiate option available to me right now. Fortunately for me, I’ve played golf for a long time and have in college, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I do feel pretty fortunate to have been able to continue in football for as long as I did, since most guys never get past the high school level. I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve given for it nor the things I’ve learned from my college experience, and I’d do it again if I could.

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