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Children’s Brains at Risk
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Parents, coaches, and other adults are inadvertently exposing many children to grave harm. There are two major reasons: (1) a lack of awareness of the fragility of the brain and (2) ignorance of the life-altering changes that come from a brain injury. As parents and children learn about the risks, some children have elected not to play certain sports (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: To Play or NOT to Play, May 23, 2014).
There are many very good reasons for young people to play sports, including raising self-esteem, being part of a team, learning responsibility, and understanding competitiveness. But, studies are showing that some sports have a real possibility of danger associated with them.
One of us (Donna) taught first and third grades and coached a soccer team of 6- to 8-year-olds. We know how trusting young people are of adults. No adult would willingly put a young child or teenager in danger, but most are ignorant of the potential consequences of a brain injury. Only now are we beginning to understand how easy it is to injure the brain and just how dire the result can be. There is a desperate need to speak out to educate other adults of what we know.
A great deal of research is going on, but our knowledge of the brain is just beginning. Our hope is that there will not only be better treatments and therapy, but also that steps can be taken to greatly lessen the possibility of brain injury in the first place.
The danger is very real. A 1999 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association examined mild TBIs in 10 high-school sports over 3 years. Over 1200 concussions were documented. Football, by far, was responsible for the highest percentage of concussions. The percentage of concussions caused by playing football was almost double the percentage of concussions from the remaining sports combined. A recent study showed that playing football, even without a concussion, may affect behavior and brain structure (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: Football – Is It Dangerous to Your Brain? May 23, 2014). Keep in mind that players often do not report symptoms for fear of not being allowed to continue to play (video). In addition, having another concussion without recovering from the first can be deadly.
Heading in soccer is the primary cause of concussions in that sport. The percentage of soccer-caused concussions ranks #3 in boys’ sports and #1 in girls’ sports. Changes are beginning to happen with the new knowledge. A Connecticut youth soccer league has made heading illegal.
Just how ignorant of brain injury is the medical profession has already become apparent in the interviews. It’s common for a brain-injured patient to be treated for all other wounds, but little thought is given to the brain. Only later is the brain injury recognized as the basis for some of the symptoms. We were taken by Tabbie’s statement (Survivors SPEAK OUT! Tabbie, May 25, 2014) that a doctor assured her that it was not possible to get a concussion from a volleyball. Meanwhile, 0.5% of concussions were found to occur from volleyball in the 1999 JAMA study. Although volleyball ranked 10th, it did register. Ask Tabbie if it’s possible to have a brain injury from volleyball.
For motivation, we recommend watching the documentary Head Games, which is available online. Here is the trailer and the description. No one wants to put children at risk. There is no doubt the consequences of brain injury can be severe (Video Part 1 and Video Part 2), but there needs to be more awareness of the danger and consequences.
What can be done? In the short term, (1) we can speak out to make more people aware of brain injury. (2) We can promote the re-examination of rules and, where safety is concerned, lobby for their change. A Connecticut soccer league is already doing this by banning heading in soccer. As another example, if a football player uses his helmet to “spear” another player, maybe he should be ejected from the game. (3) No one should tolerate a violent act to win. Who promoted the idea that it was acceptable for a player of the opposing team to take Tabbie out of the game? There is no place for winning-at-all-costs. In the long term, there needs to be better equipment for the safety of players. This will take research. Legislation of rule changes will cause everyone to be protected. Nebraska’s legislature has already made laws for youth sports.
Our youth look to us. Let’s not fail them.
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