The Institute of Medicine reported that “The number of athletes aged 19 and younger who were treated for concussions and other sports and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries rose from 150,000 in 2001 to a quarter million in 2009…”, a 66% spike. Some contend this increase is partially due to better diagnostic and reporting procedures, and not that kids are actually getting hurt more today than they have in past years. But whether athletes are more likely to be concussed in today’s youth sports arena or not, concussions are serious injuries that we can’t afford to take lightly.
Concussions manifest with many symptoms, some of which are very obvious (loss of consciousness) and others which may not fully manifest until later (inability to concentrate). Because athletes can present many different types of symptoms, roughly 65-80% of initial concussions are missed. And half of all concussions are “indirect” (i.e., no direct impact to head), like when a players head snaps back after being tackled in football, so coaches and trainers might not even realize their player is concussed because they were looking for a direct blow to the head. Failing to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion mean players are being sent back onto the field, when they should be seeking medical attention.
An Idaho high school football player was sent back into the game by his coaches just a few minutes after being injured on the field. He collapsed shortly after. And a Frostburg State football player ultimately died after being injured in practice. For three days his injury concerns were dismissed, and even taunted at, by the head coach and the player paid the ultimate price.
And while concussions among youth football players get most of the attention, football players aren’t the only ones at risk. In 2010, more high school soccer players sustained concussions than did athletes in basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball combined, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio. That puts it in second place behind football for the most dangerous youth sport in terms of concussions. According to an infographic put out by the online Master of Science in Nursing program at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies, high school soccer female players are 40% more likely than men to be concussed, making it the most dangerous sport for female athletes in terms of concussions. Concussion rates for cheerleaders have increased by 26% over 10 years due to the increased amount of tumbling and throwing in competitive cheer.
Research has shown that there is three times the increased risk of concussion and severe concussion in Pee Wee hockey leagues that allow body checking. This has prompted some youth hockey leagues to ban checking in U-14 divisions. Some youth football leagues have also proposed banning tackling until players are 14 to help minimize the amount of damage a concussion could cause on a young brain.
But even as we and coaches and parents learn to take concussions more seriously, we also have to teach our players that concussions are no laughing matter. There is a growing concern that some youth athletes aren’t reporting their symptoms for fear that it will cost them time on the field. Researchers found 32% of high school football players said they had concussion-like symptoms over the last two years, but did not seek medical attention. More than half said they didn’t report it because they were worried it would mean they would lose playing time.
While it’s admirable that players are trying to be tough and “play through the pain” a few extra minutes on the field now is not worth their entire athletic career and long-term mental health