As summer rolls around and students begin to get out of school, parents may be gearing up for another season: youth athletics. Whether it’s T-ball, pee-wee football, outdoor basketball, or co-ed soccer, you can bet most parents are planning on spending large chunks of their summer at the fields watching their children participate.
We all want our children to experience their hard work in practice paying off in a game, the joy of competitive exercise, and the personal growth brought about by teamwork. However, many fear the risks of injury associated with contact sports and the lasting impacts they can have on children. Leading these fears is the risk of one or multiple concussions during youth athletics.
Impacts of Concussions
Concussions are caused by an impact to the head that causes the disruption of a part of the brain known as the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS is responsible for a large part of your sense of awareness and consciousness. Furthermore, it acts to help you to decipher between background noise and important information in both the auditory and visual channels.
When a concussion happens, the brain is temporarily moved out of its normal position, which can cause a disruption of electrical impulses within the RAS. When this happens, the concussed person can experience a range of functional changes in thinking, memory, language, and emotions. Depending on the severity of the impact, these can be exceptionally short-term or long-lasting.
These varying levels of severity in concussions can make it somewhat difficult to tell if an individual has experienced one after a blow to the head. In fact, only 10 percent of concussions result in a loss of consciousness. In youth athletics, concussions make up nearly 15 percent of all reported injuries. Over 173,285 youth concussions are treated in emergency rooms every year.
Many parents assume that football is the sport most likely to result in a concussion because of how frequently it is in the news for safety issues. However, both biking and football have been cited as the most frequent sources of concussions for boys aged between 10 and 19 years, while biking, soccer, and basketball rank among the highest for girls of the same age. Boys soccer and girls volleyball rank the highest in number of severe concussions treated.
Luckily, a number of significant steps are being taken to help reduce the risk of concussions in youth sports. At the forefront is the development of new helmet technologies that both protect the brains of athletes better and inform coaches through smartphone alerts if a potential injury may have occurred. These types of improvements can help prevent severe concussions and expedite treatment if one does occur.
Additionally, new coaching rules have been proposed in a number of school districts that require coaches to bench athletes that have taken a hit for a predetermined amount of time. Rules such as these are put into place to be certain that an unnoticed injury, that could be exasperated by further play, hasn’t taken place. In many places, if coaches fail to follow these rules they could be removed from their positions.
Although concussions are potentially serious injuries, most healthcare providers believe the benefits of athletic activities outweigh the risks of getting a concussion. This is especially true if the right precautions are taken by both coaches and athletes participating in events. As safety practices improve we can hope that the number of concussion-based injuries will decrease in coming years.
Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström