I, more than most, appreciate how devastating a “concussion” can be – I lived through one and that experience is something that I recommend avoiding. Period.
I also believe that stuff of all kinds happen in our lives and when we live in fear of what might be, we keep ourselves and our children from living. We must always weigh options carefully, take a good look at how to mitigate any damage, protect ourselves and those we are responsible for in the best way possible, and proceed armed with solid, foundational knowledge.
With that in mind, before the hail storm of anti-football, anti-sports voices start booming when Concussion the movie starring Will Smith from Columbia Pictures is released, let’s look at some facts about sports, kids, development, and head injury.
Participating in sports in general and team sports in particular is good for children. Sports involvement lays the ground work for some critical life skills and gives players a place to practice and refine those skills.
- Playing sports builds self-esteem and confidence.
- Being part of a team exposes young people to mutual support and teamwork – more than just about any other activity in most schools in our country.
- We are facing an obesity epidemic in this country and team sports are a great way to get kids up and moving.
The key to avoiding long-term harm to young athletes is to get the facts, make sure that equipment is focused on safety, know what to look for, and pay attention to behaviors that might signal a problem.
Here, taken from resources provided by the Mayo Clinic (with a few additions) , are signs to look for after a child hits their protected or unprotected head.
Directly following a knock to the head:
- Headache / pressure in head
- Loss of consciousness (even for a second)
- Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
- Can’t remember the details of what happened (make sure to ask)
- Dizziness or “seeing stars”
- Ringing in the ears
- Nausea / vomiting
- Changes in speech
- Slower than normal response to questions
- Looking confused / dazed
Continue to watch for this next set of signs. Keep in mind you are looking for changes in normal behavior.
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Changes in personality including irritability or usual mood swings
- Sensitivity to sensory stimulation (lights, noise, smells, tastes, temperature)
- Sleep disturbances
- Psychological adjustment problems and depression
I get it that football is a violent sport. So is boxing and ice hockey. All of the concussion attention right now is on those sports and those sports, as a result, are responding with better equipment, more attention on screening, and an increased emphasis on education for coaches, parents, and players.
There are sports that we perceive as less “violent” but pose an equally or in some cases a more immediate risk of head injury (because of unprotected heads). They are not yet in reactive mode and that, in my opinion, is a reason to be even more vigilant. Pay attention and look for those same signs in those who participate in soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, basketball, and cheerleading (yes you read that correctly).
It is all about making sure that someone armed with the information to pick up on signs of concussion is paying attention and is intervening.
Taking extreme positions and acting based on fear will, in the long run, bring about more harm to the next generation.
Take a breath, look at the facts, and move beyond the past transgressions of professional sports. Let’s infuse some intelligence and perspective into this debate.