Summer is Here and Concussion Season is Right Around the Corner

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My fifth grader, Mark, suddenly developed an obsession. He was determined to try out for the local park district football team. He began doing pushups and running around the block doing sprints with his buddy, Joey.

As a single parent, I was more than uneasy about his desire and fervently hoped it was a phase. It wasn’t. After the tryouts Mark and Joey both made the team.  After the tryouts, he became the proud owner of a uniform, cleats, pads and thankfully, a sturdy new football helmet.

We both anxiously prepared for the first day of practice, but not before a hilarious episode of shopping for a “cup” at the local sports store. If you haven’t done this as a single mother, you haven’t lived. Seriously how do they size those things?

Joey’s mom, Rose, and I nervously drove our boys to the practice field to meet Coach Lewis and the other boys who had made the team. For a while, it was only practicing, but before we knew it we were scheduled to play a preseason game.

Rose and I set up our lawn chairs to watch the action on the field and to watch our boys learn the fundamentals of their first full-contact sport. Mark’s last foray into organized sports was t-ball as a first grader. He concentrated more on the hot dogs and ice cream sold at the concession stand than the ball-playing.  That was a long time ago and there wasn’t a whole lot of hurting going on in t-ball.

Our boys ended up playing center (Joey) and nose guard (Mark). Talk about being in the thick of things. Usually after the ball was snapped, one or both of our boys ended up at the bottom of a pile of massive kids. Like most moms, Rose and I worried about injuries. Our hearts almost stopped simultaneously when a young man from another team was knocked unconscious by a vicious hit.  The wail of an ambulance was heard in the distance coming to the field to take him to the hospital.

MORE: Brain Injury Association

A concussion was one of my worst fears. Break my boy’s arm, but Heaven forbid that you hurt his brain. Concussions are now considered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can cause serious injury or even death. The New York Times, reporting on the issue of injury and death from youth sports identified more than 50 young athletes who were severely injured or even died after playing youth sports. According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta almost “…75 percent of all TBIs each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.” And, because of the high incidence of young boys playing sports, emergency room visits are more likely to be boys than girls.

MORE: Center for Disease Control, “Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports” 

What’s a parent to do? Wrap the child in cotton batting and place a video controller in his hand? That might be safer than putting a football helmet on his head, but not necessarily the right choice. First, be an informed sports parent. Check your youth program to see if they have a written concussion protocol. Even the National Football League, looking at the over 21 percent increase in concussions on the field, developed a “Go or No Go” test which can be quickly performed by medical professionals on the sidelines.

MORE: New guidelines used by the NFL

Check with your coaches to find out the level of their training to identify this potentially serious injury. However, the best prevention as a parent is preparation. Be an informed parent and understand the warning signs of your child experiencing a concussion. Warning signs include confusion, forgetfulness, dizziness and clumsiness. If your son or daughter cannot follow simple directions such as touching a nose with a finger or cannot recall events immediately before or after an event, he should be evaluated by a doctor. This is especially critical if there was any loss of consciousness.

MORE: Interactive map from the New York Times on serious Youth Sports Injuries

Many athletes report seeing double or having blurry vision, having a headachy feeling or sensing pressure in their brain, vomiting or nausea and a difficulty walking. Sensitivity to light or sound also signals that the brain may have experienced trauma.

In the thick of competitive pressure during a game, parents or coaches can feel compelled to put a star athlete back into the game, even after a concussive event. Be your child’s advocate and err on the side of caution by keeping them out of the game. As the CDC says, “It’s better to miss one game than the whole season.”

Rose and I were lucky football moms. Our boys played a couple of seasons and missed out on having anything above aches and bruises. Other parents and athletes aren’t as lucky. Stay safe and cover your kids' heads, even when doing solo activities, such as biking or skateboarding.  I’ve seen the inside of a brain injury hospital and its residents. The consequences of not wearing helmets aren’t pretty. As a concerned parent, be your child’s advocate and protect the head.

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