Photo Credit: Celena Gill
I have always been super concerned about my kids and head injuries while playing sports. Did you know that at least 1.6 to 3 million youth and adults suffer sports and recreation related concussions annually in the U.S.?
Thanks to iVillage, I had the pleasure of attending the NFL 2012 Youth Health and Safety Luncheon hosted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell where we learned about youth football safety so that we could spread the word to our communities. Being a mom of four boys, two of whom who have played tackle football, I am concerned about the incidence of head injuries and concussions among the three million kids who play football in the U.S. I even had my sons sit out this season due to my growing concern about their precious brains. I truly have no evidence that any of my children has suffered concussions after bad playground falls, game collisions or as a result of tackles -- but I was also unaware of all the signs of a concussion. I knew that I had a lot to learn.
The discussion was led by Dr. Gerard Gioia, Ph.D (Children's National Medical Center), Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, PsyD (Chicago Bears, Northshore University Healthcare System), Kelly Sarmiento (Centers for Disease Control), Scott Hallenbeck (USA Football) and Corrie Elkin (USA Football "Mom Coach"). Here are some important concussion basics as described by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Heads Up initiative that can help you keep your kids safe:
1. A concussion is a brain injury that affects how your brain works and is caused by a blow to the head or the body.
2. It can happen even if your child isn't knocked unconscious.
3. If you think that your child has a concussion, your child should not return to play on the day of the injury and should only return after a health care professional says your child is okay to play.
4. Concussion symptoms include headache, confusion, difficulty remembering or paying attention, balance problems or dizziness, feeling sluggish/hazy/foggy/groggy, feeling irritable/more emotional/down, nausea or vomiting, bothered by light or noise, double or blurry vision, slowed reaction time, sleep problems and loss of consciousness.
5. It is important to report the symptons for a number of reasons. Unlike other injuries, playing or practicing with a concussion is dangerous and can lead to a longer recovery and a delay in returning to play. While your child's brain is healing, he/she is much more likely to have a concussion, which could mean a longer recovery time and also a greater likelihood of long-term problems. in rare cases, concussions can lead to brain swelling or permanent brain damage -- or even be fatal.
Now that you are hiding under the table, let me assure you the benefits of youth sports can outweigh the risks. The experts explained to us that youth sports help kids develop self-discipline, keep up their grades, develop time management skills, encourage social support and friendships, increase self-esteem and could potentially result in financial rewards (college scholarships and/or professional athletic career).
As a parent, you can help reduce the risk of concussions by reducing your child’s exposure, having the coach change your child's playing position, having the coaching staff review the team’s style of play or even getting individualized coaching for your child. If your child does sustain a concussion and is unable to play as a result, he/she can still remain very active in the sport by becoming a coach or a mentor to the team.
While the luncheon was chock full of information, there were also many personal highlights. I met NFL Football Commissioner Goodell (my husband was so jealous!) It was such a pleasure meeting Corrie Elkin, a first time football "Mom Coach" who led her 8-year-old son's team to be the #1 seeded team in their league. It was especially telling for her to speak because it is usually moms who are more concerned about injuries from youth sports. Armed with the information and training from USA Football, she was able to successfully coach her son's team and monitor the players for injuries without significant interruption of practice or play.
Additionally, USA Football is now promoting a new Heads Up tackling program designed to reduce head injuries in youth football. The CDC and USA Football also offer online training for coaches and parents to learn about concussion identification, safety and when to seek treatment. We even learned about a smartphone application that helps coaches and parents identify potential concussions (I already downloaded it!)
The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) also just announced that the NFL has agreed to donate $30 million in support of research on serious medical conditions prominent in athletes, which is the largest philanthropic gift the NFL has given in the league’s 92-year history.
My quest for knowledge has now been fulfilled -- I can now understand how a concussion can occur, the risks and effects of possible concussion injury and the many resources available to coaches and parents. After learning what I now know, I might even let my boys play next season!
WATCH: Celena Gill and the iVoices discuss ways to keep their family active