Protect Kids…from Themselves

I recently had a blog post sent to me addressing an MLB player’s view of dealing with his own concussion.  It’s a pretty good read that can be found here.

Reading this reminded me of another blog post that had been sent to me quite a while ago.  Fair warning before you read this one – the intention of this linked post isn’t the same as what I’m passing along today.  There is a whole lot of stuff from this author related to parenting and youth athletics.  I simply want to focus on the first three examples he lists early in his post regarding injuries.  That blog post is linked right here.

All 50 states have some sort of concussion legislation related to educating coaches and/or athletes.  They all have some measure of trying to teach recognition and assessment in order to remove kids from play for their safety.  Following removal from play, they all have some sort of process involving health professionals’ involvement before being allowed to return to play.  All of these processes are great when used properly, but there’s one factor that none of them consider: the human element.

And by human element, I mean every human involved in the process of removing a kid from play.  Too many (NOT ALL!) coaches will err on the side of ignoring symptoms if the coach thinks the kid is still needed to win.  Brady Hoke, Univ. of Michigan’s head football coach, came under a ton of flak a few weeks ago about his handling of a kid with a concussion.  Hoke may or may not have completely ignored what he knew or just didn’t know, but he’s certainly under pressure to win games right now.

Parents (and the general public) cause us problems, too.  (Again, I’m talking about SOME, definitely not ALL!)  More than from any other group, I still hear parents talking about how their son or daughter “just got his/her bell rung” without realizing that that’s exactly what we’re trying to address!  As a brief example, we had a set of parents last year trying to force us to allow their kid to compete on Day 3 of a state tournament because it was the last game of the kid’s career.  Both parents chose to ignore that the kid needed physical assistance the night before to get off the playing surface following a head to head collision.  Thankfully, our return to play concussion protocol was followed to the letter by our athletic trainers.

Officials are in a tough spot, too.  When North Dakota first enacted its concussion legislature that requires anyone who suspects a player to have a concussion to remove the player from a game, I actually had an official make this comment to me: “Yeah, right.  I don’t care what I see happen on the field; there’s no way that I’ll be the one who walks over to Coach _______ to tell him that [his running back] can’t play any more today.”  As terrible as that comment is, it’s completely understandable.  At a time when every official in every city is constantly accused of being “a homer,” it’s extremely difficult to have the guts to remove an opposing team’s player from a game.

But the worst group are the kids themselves.  Kids have been patterned for years and year (AND YEARS) to want to stay in the game for a variety of reasons: risk of being replaced, loss of stats, pressure from peers/parents/coaches/public, desire to play, etc. etc. etc.  For all of those reasons, many kids simply aren’t honest about what they’ve experienced.  I can even speak from personal experience. I blacked out three times (that I remember, anyway) in my playing career following helmet to helmet collisions and told nobody.  Twice, I woke up shortly after being tackled and was able to get back to the huddle on my own; the third time, I was helped off the field but had messed up my ankle on the play as well – so I didn’t have to address being helped off the field with the athletic training staff.  My whole reason for not saying anything was simply because I wanted to play.

Sam Fuld (in the first blog post linked at the top of this post) lists another reason for wanting to play that we don’t deal with in youth athletics: money.  Professional athletes want to get back on the field because that loss of playing time can result in replacement, demotion, or termination of a contract.  While the salary factor doesn’t affect our decisions in youth athletics, the praise heaped on professionals for playing through injury does trickle down to our levels.

I use concussions as an example, but ultimately, I’m talking about all injuries.  There is absolutely no reason for any of us to rush a kid back from a concussion, a sprain, a strain, a break, or any other injury under the sun.  The risk vs reward just isn’t worth it.  Kids aren’t smart or mature enough to recognize that not playing through injury is their best option; we, as adults, have to force them into those decisions.  (This should simply be what we do as adults.  For example, there’s a reason we don’t let our kids eat candy for supper every night despite their desire to.)

My purpose in addressing this is simply as a reminder that we’re in the business of providing a positive sporting experience for our kids.  I’m not saying that every scratch or scrape is worthy of advanced medical care, but be on the lookout for the kid who still hobbles on the previously sprained ankle, the kid who still can’t raise his/her arm above shoulder height, and certainly the kid who still gets headaches/dizziness/etc.  Which side of this issue would you prefer to err on?

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Suggestions?  Comment to the post or send me an email; I’d enjoy hearing from you!

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