Over the past several years, the effects of traumatic brain injuries (concussions) has become one of the most talked-about issues in sports, from youth soccer fields all the way up to the world’s largest professional sports leagues.
Awareness of and education on the causes and effects of concussions is at an all-time high — however, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council (NRC)
, that increased awareness hasn’t necessarily led to a dramatic shift in behaviors.
"Young athletes in the U.S. face a ‘culture of resistance’ to reporting when they might have a concussion and to complying with treatment plans, which could endanger their well-being," the report says.
Drafted by a committee of leading experts throughout the country, the report detailed many steps that should be taken to increase our understanding of the long- and short-terms effects of concussions, including a national monitoring system and additional research into the effectiveness of safety equipment and rules designed to prevent injury.
Of the most importance, according to the committee, was changing an athletic culture in which athletes are expected to be "tough" or "team players" and shrug off injuries for the good of the team. That starts with coaches and parents, who can educate themselves and their players on the signs and symptoms of brain injuries, and make clear that a brain injury should be treated seriously. Doing so will make a player more likely to self-report a brain injury when it occurs, an act which can significantly increase recovery time and reduce the risk of further injury.
"Athletes who return to play before their brain has fully healed may place themselves at increased risk for prolonged recovery or more serious consequences if they sustain a second brain injury," the report states. "If the youth sports community can adopt the belief that concussions are serious injuries and emphasize care for players with concussions until they are fully recovered, then the culture in which these athletes perform and compete will become much safer."
In the State of Washington, the Zackery Lystedt Law
— the first comprehensive youth sports concussion safety law in the country — requires school districts and state athletics associations to develop concussion guidelines and educational programs, coaches to immediately remove any athlete suspected of suffering a concussion and written clearance from a qualified doctor before that athlete can return to play.
In addition, numerous resources exist online — such as Sports Legacy Institute’s Concussion Checklist
— to help parents, coaches and Club and Association officials keep up-to-date on the ongoing research into the prevention and treatment of concussions.
Youth sports are unquestionably an important part of a child’s healthy lifestyle, encouraging physical health, building strength and confidence, and teaching valuable social and team-building skills that they will take with them for a lifetime. It’s important, therefore, that we continue to do our part to make sure that each child can enjoy the many benefits of youth sports in as safe and supportive an environment as possible.
To view the full report, Sports Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science, Changing the Culture, click here!