In this post, Gerard Gioia, PhD, director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery and Education (SCORE) Program at Children's National Health System, shares 10 questions parents should ask their child’s coaches and sports organizations about head safety. Gioia is an expert in concussion research and works closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Heads Up” concussion educational programs, is on the Medical Advisory Committee for USA Football, and sits on the board the National Advisory Board of the Positive Coaching Alliance.
In whatever sport a child chooses to play, I recommend that all parents do their homework and ask questions of the league and coaches about how they handle head safety.
Whether it’s football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, or field hockey, safety is of the utmost importance. I encourage parents to ask the following 10 questions of their child’s coaches and sports organizations. I will break them down in this way:
On the Field Issues
- Does the league teach or coach proper techniques (i.e., blocking and tackling in football, checking in hockey and lacrosse) in ways that are “head-safe” by not putting the head in position to be struck?
- If the player does demonstrate unsafe technique during practice or a game, do the coaches re-instruct them with the proper technique or method? Is head and neck strengthening taught?
- If a contact sport, are there limitations to the amount of contact? How often (number of days per week, number of minutes per practice) do you practice with live contact? Is that any different than past years?
- What is the policy regarding allowing a player to return to play? (Correct answer – ONLY when an appropriate medical professional provides written clearance that the athlete is fully recovered and ready to return.)
Does the league provide concussion education for the parents, and what is the policy for informing parents of suspected concussions?
Are the coaches required to take a concussion education and training course?
Do the coaches have readily available the tools, such as concussion signs and symptoms cards, clipboards, fact sheets, smartphone apps, etc., during practice and games to guide proper recognition and response of a suspected concussion?
Heads Up Football Program Reduces Injuries
- Who is responsible for the sideline concussion recognition and response to suspected concussions during practice and games?
- Does the league have a general policy in how they manage concussions, and have access to healthcare professionals with knowledge and training in sport-related concussion?
- How amenable is the league/team/coach to accepting feedback from parents about their child’s safety as it relates to head safety?
USA Football, the national governing body of youth and high school football, is making their own strides towards better head safety. I serve on their Medical Advisory Committee, and according to a new study, USA Football’s Heads Up Football program had a 76 percent reduction in injuries compared to leagues that did not participate in the program. This study also revealed a 34 percent reduction in concussions in practices and a 29 percent reduction of concussions during games for Heads Up leagues.
The Heads Up Football program combines the knowledge of the CDC, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and others, to help teach and play football safer at the youth and high school levels.