New worries about safety in sports
The Kansas City Star
Concussions are more in the news than ever as emerging research links brain injuries to brain disease and deteriorating cognitive function.
Our community has a responsibility to put the current and future health of children’s developing minds first and foremost as we organize their sports and activities.
Is our sports-crazed culture correctly assessing the risk to children’s short- or long-term health by allowing participation in certain high-risk sports at too young an age? Nationwide, more than 170,000 children are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for concussions.
These numbers are expected to grow as parents, athletes and coaches become even more aware of the symptoms and dangers of head trauma. Kansas City area children are no exception to this trend or what some are calling an epidemic.
Concussions can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head and can affect the movement, balance, attention span, concentration, judgment, memory or reaction time of the injured person. Each head trauma and subsequent recovery varies and is unique to the injured person.
A recently released book, “Concussions and Our Kids,” by Robert Cantu, outlines the link between repeated brain trauma and subsequent impaired cognitive function. The book is easy, sometimes frightening, reading.
Cantu promotes simple, straight-forward guidelines to better protect children and teenagers from head injuries. They include: prohibit “heading” in boys and girls soccer before the age of 14; prohibit tackle football before the age of 14; require girls field hockey and lacrosse teams to wear helmets; prohibit intentional contact in boys lacrosse before the age of 14; consider making some or all football practices “tackle free”; prohibit body checking in youth hockey; require baseball helmets to have chin straps; and eliminate head first slides in baseball.
I encourage parents to collectively insist on game officials being held to high officiating standards and for children or student athletes to have ongoing access to good medical care from a coach, physician or athletic trainer. Parents can support each other and work together to create a common goal of good health for all members of the team.
Parents are often excellent “spotters.” They are the first to notice an overlooked situation with a child that may need follow up medical care.
When parents or coaches react with defensiveness or anger to the question: “Is the child OK? That was quite a fall,” it thwarts the reporting of injuries and inhibits much needed follow-up care.
The four children in our family have enjoyed participating in athletics. I have witnessed the many rewards from children and teens being active participants in team sports.
I’ve heard enough stories in the bleachers to know that brain injuries can happen to boys and girls of all ages, across the spectrum of all sports, and even in everyday situations like a random trip and fall.
My family’s most alarming experience with a concussion involved our daughter who was injured in a collision with another player in a high school basketball game.
She received good care from her coach, her school athletic trainer and the sports medicine physician we consulted for follow-up care. Nonetheless, her symptoms annoyed her and frightened us as they lingered for months.
Start the conversation about safety in sports with your pediatrician and then continue it with a specialist in sports medicine. Seek the right answer for your family to this question: What is the right balance between risk and reward, for my child, at this age, from participating in this sport?
Sarah Baum of Mission Hills has worked in finance and as a community volunteer. Reach her by email at email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.