Youth athletes susceptible to concussions

With all of the studies which show the amount of trauma athletes who have suffered concussions face during life after sports, youth sports leagues have taken a proactive stance on protecting their athletes.

While children may not play at the same speed and intensity that professionals do, they are still at risk for violent collisions and head injuries. In Oswego, youth sports leagues are taking precautions to lower the amount of concussions, as well as preparing to care for a child that is possibly suffering from one.

The Oswego Pop Warner program sports one football team and two cheerleading teams that contain a combined 60 kids, according to program president Deanna Kraft.

The football team has five coaches and each cheerleading squad has one head coach and one assistant coach, most of whom are equipped to deal with injuries. There is also a medical trainer that is on hand for both practices and games.

“[Every team] needs at least one person that is Red Cross certified,” Kraft said. “All head coaches have to take a concussion clinic, which is offered by Upstate University Youth Program.”

Kraft said that there has not been any instances of a player concussion in Oswego Pop Warner to her knowledge, but coaching staffs are prepared to deal with them just in case.

Helping coaches identify concussions or head injuries is a checklist that is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The list gives examples of behavioral signs that one may observe in a child who may have a concussion, as well as symptoms that a child may be complaining of that could indicate a concussion.

The CDC also provides a list of questions to ask a child that, if answered incorrectly, may signify a concussion. The questions may be as simple as “What city is this?” or more difficult, such as, “Can you name the months of the year backward?”

“Even if [a coach thinks] a player has a concussion, the player has to go to a doctor,” Kraft said. “[The player] has to be cleared by a doctor before he can even practice or anything.”

Oswego Pop Warner has a Preparticipation Physical Evaluation form through the American Academy of Family Physicians that parents must fill out before their child can be cleared to play football or cheerlead. The form asks questions of the child’s medical history regarding any medical conditions or issues the child may have faced.

Equipment is a big part of concussion prevention, as the wrong helmet may not provide enough support and protection from a harsh blow from an opposing player.

“[Equipment] has to be examined every year before practice starts,” Kraft said. “We just had helmets reconditioned last year. They have to be recertified. It’s required through Pop Warner.”

Coaches also have to be recertified every two years through Pop Warner by going through a training course, according to Kraft.

While Oswego Pop Warner may not have had to deal with a concussion, the Oswego Minor Hockey Association has. According to President John Rice, the league has to deal with “one to three each year.”

Oswego Minor Hockey has 14 teams with 15 kids to each team and anywhere from one to four coaches per squad. Each team also has a medical kit on hand at every practice and game in case of injury, Rice said.

“[Concussions] are a hot topic with us right now,” he said. “USA Hockey puts out what they call the Head’s Up program, which is a concussion awareness, concussion identification program. It touches on the hot points of how to determine if a kid possibly has a concussion.”

Rice also said the league is looking to improve its concussion detection process through ImPACT, which is a company that sells concussion-testing equipment to schools and organizations.

“ImPACT is able to provide the bench marking through a computer program,” Rice said. “The Oswego city school district has all of its athletes go through this. Then, if there’s a concussion or blow to the head…they can go back and retake the test and use that as a diagnosis for the doctor. We are looking as an organization to also start doing that program.”

Much like Oswego Pop Warner, Oswego Minor Hockey requires that a player be taken out of a game in case of a possible concussion. But instead of a mandatory medical examination, Oswego Minor Hockey leaves the decision up to the parents of the injured child.

“We’re not medical people, but when we see something that happens out on the ice, the first thing is to get the responsibility back to the parent,” Rice said. “The parent, hopefully, is aware enough to know if something still isn’t right and to get to a medical person.”

Coaches also have to be certified through USA Hockey in order to coach a team in Oswego Minor Hockey. Each coach must complete eight online modules which takes about eight hours to complete in total, according to Rice.

Equipment is not checked individually, Rice said, but it can be looked at if it is deemed questionable.

“Through USA Hockey, all helmets are certified,” he said. “The helmet has a shelf life, so to speak. As far as people checking that, I think the ultimate responsibility may come down to a referee, but I’ve never seen a referee checking helmets.”

Rice also said USA Hockey has completed studies that have shown that any specific brand of helmet or wearing a mouth guard can prevent concussions.

“Safety for the kids is the No. 1 priority,” Rice said. “I’m all for whatever we have to do to be able to identify and do the correct things medically so kids do not get hurt.”