NFL, CDC Tackle Concussions On and Off the Field: 10 Things Parents MUST KNOW

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to parents yesterday about concussions.

“You need to know who your children are with,” said National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday, emphasizing that parents need to be involved in their kids’ sports activities and understand whether practices are being held in a safe manner. “If your kid’s coach is having scrimmages at every practice, that’s unacceptable.”

While most moms and dads hesitate before stepping on the toes of their kids’ coaches, Commissioner Goodell, and USA Football Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck want parents to be involved, for the safety of their young athletes.

“You’re engaged, you’re going to every practice and every game,” said Mr. Hallenbeck yesterday at a luncheon for about 20 bloggers and media types held at NFL Headquarters in New York City. “But if you don’t know what’s going on, you’re trusting that the coach knows what’s going on. The fact is, they don’t all know what they’re talking about.”

“Parents need to be a part of the equation if we want to change the culture,” said Mr. Hallenbeck, before the speakers share several incredibly important points that parents must know about kids and concussions.

The NFL’s luncheon yesterday was part of the NFL’s focus on raising awareness among parents of the problem of concussions in youth sports, and off the field as well.

Commissioner Goodell was joined by Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, neuropsychologist and head injury consultant to the Chicago Bears; Dr. Gerard Gioia, Chief of Neuropsychology for the Children’s National Medical Center; Kelly Sarmiento of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC); Scott Hallenbeck, the Executive Director of USA Football, the governing body that oversees football from your neighborhood youth league on up through the NFL; and Corie Elkin, a mom who happens to coach her son’s football team and part of USA Football’s Coach Mom program.

While the speakers emphasized that they respect each coach’s right to come up with the best practice plans for his or her team, they’re also encouraging coaches to take a progressive, step-by-step approach to teaching tackling technique, and to take the CDC’s free, online concussion training program for coaches.

One of the major problems in youth concussions is the tendency for young athletes to under-report their injuries. In other words, they don’t want to get pulled out of the game, so they say they’re fine. Parents and coaches have the responsibility to pull those kids out of play if they even suspect a concussion.

“When in doubt, sit them out.” – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

“When in doubt, sit them out,” said Mr. Goodell. “That has to be the rule.”

What do parents need to know?

Know what a concussion is, and what the signs are. You can find free downloads or order free fact sheets, stickers, and posters at the CDC’s website. They’ll even mail you, for free, bulk quantities for teams, leagues, and schools. There are smartphone apps created by Dr. Gioia that will help coaches, parents, and clinicians identify athletes who need treatment. (Find the apps at iTunes and the Android Market.) USA Football also has a free app in the works designed to keep coaches on top of the latest news in sports safety.

Know that your child may “under-report injury” lie to you. Being an athlete can become a huge part of a kid’s identity, especially as they get into high school and college. Your kid may be afraid of being pulled out of the game, afraid that coaches and teammates will think he’s a wuss, or simply believe that he’s invincible because that’s what teens do. Yes, explain to your athlete what a concussion is, and what the serious, long-term risks can be. Teach them what the signs are, and emphasize that they must tell you if they have any signs. But also know that they might not take this as seriously as you’d like.

Equipment must fit properly. All the speakers emphasized the importance of properly-fitting equipment. Don’t trust that your kid’s coach is putting the correct size helmet on him or her. USA Football offers several videos online that demonstrate exactly how to fit equipment. The site also offers coaches and parents a step-by-step, detailed guide to ensuring that helmets are correctly fitted and adjusted. It’s a PDF file–print it out and hand it out to every coach and parent on the team. Afraid you’re over-stepping your bounds? You’re not. We’re talking about kids’ brains here.

Understand what the equipment does. “Helmets are not designed to prevent concussion,” said the CDC’s Kelly Sarmiento. “Helmets are built to keep the skull from fracturing.” In other words, no matter what kind of fancy helmet you get, it’s not going to prevent the brain from sloshing back and forth inside your kid’s melon if he takes a hit.

Don’t be fooled by marketing. “The government does not endorse any product,” explained Ms. Sarmiento, “but our information is in the public domain.” So if you see a hang-tag on a piece of safety equipment that says “CDC,” it doesn’t mean the CDC wants you to buy that product.

Be skeptical. This week, the FTC settled a case with safety equipment manufacturer Brain-Pad, Inc., which was claiming, without evidence, that its mouthguard “creates new brain safety space!” and “Reduces Risk of Concussions!  From Lower Jaw Impacts.” Brain-Pad’s website now says the product creates extra “TMJ Safety Space” for the jaw but doesn’t offer any evidence on that one, either. During the luncheon, Dr. Pieroth noted that some safety “accessories” may actually inhibit the proper use of equipment.

Be prepared to make the tough call. If, after weighing the risks and rewards of their sport, you end up having to pull your child out of a sport entirely, consider helping your child to:

  • Select a different sport with lower concussion risk,
  • Remain in that sport in a different capacity (such as coaching a Pee-Wee team or becoming a referee), or
  • obtain counseling if necessary to help with the transition.
Squee! I also got to meet one of my fave bloggers, Ellen Seidman of Love That Max. Bonus: That's Roger Goodell behind us.

Know how to reduce their risk if you need to. If your child has been injured but is going to stay in the sport, Dr. Pieroth suggests:

  • Reduce the athlete’s exposure to risk. If your athlete plays both offense and defense, pick a side. If your soccer player is on the town team and two travel teams, pick just one team.
  • Consider changing position. Catchers are the most likely to sustain a concussion on the baseball field, for example. Change to a position with lower risk.
  • Review the athlete’s style of play for techniques that can be improved to help compete more safely. Consider individualized coaching to look at the athlete’s skills.

Know what the coaches are doing. Check out USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” program. If coaches aren’t following safe practice guidelines, talk to the coach. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, talk to your league’s commissioner. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, find a league that takes safety more seriously.

Know your state’s laws. If your state hasn’t yet passed laws governing when athletes can return to play, encourage your local legislators to get on that. The NFL is working closely with governors and other legislators to get so-called “Lystedt Laws” in all 50 states. Currently, 40 states have passed such laws, but some of them only cover high school athletics, not youth sports. These laws make a real difference in what kind of training your child’s coach has had.

Before I went to the luncheon, several readers submitted questions for the NFL and USA Football about safety. I’ll answer those questions in a follow-up post. Have more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll see if I can get them answered!

(Photo Credit: Ellen Seidman, Love That Max)

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Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy.

You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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