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Action is needed to prevent concussions in young athletes

Even at the high-school level, athletes can suffer hard hits that can lead to a brain injury known as a concussion. (MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS)

Every week, the National Football League issues a report of injured players. And lots of players — 266 of them last season — suffered an injury called a concussion.

A concussion happens when someone’s brain is shaken inside his skull so hard that he may feel dizzy or sick. Someone with a concussion may have a headache or have trouble remembering things. A concussion is a brain injury, and it’s serious stuff.

I read an interesting book on concussions called “Concussions and Our Kids” by Dr. Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman. The book is for adults, but it talks about things kids (and their parents and coaches) should know.

First, concussions don’t happen only to NFL players. They happen in kids’ sports, too. Kids may be more likely to get a concussion because their heads are a bigger part of their body than an adult’s head is and because their necks are not as strong as a pro athlete’s neck.

Second, concussions don’t happen only in football. A study of high school athletes during the 2009-10 school year found concussions occurred most often in the following sports:

1) Football

2) Hockey

3) Boys’ lacrosse

4) Girls’ soccer

5) Girls’ lacrosse

6) Wrestling

7) Boys’ soccer

8) Girls’ basketball

9) Boys’ basketball

Cantu, who specializes in sports medicine, has treated young patients for concussions in other sports as well, including volleyball, baseball, softball and cheerleading.

So what’s a kid to do? Give up playing sports? Absolutely not. Cantu says “sports for kids are a wonderful thing” and that they “promote important values.” But he thinks there are ways to make sports safer for kids and to avoid concussions.

Players, coaches, and parents need to learn more about concussions and the symptoms of brain injuries. When a player takes a fall or a hit and feels woozy, the player should come out of the game immediately. The player should not return to the game until a doctor or someone trained to know about brain injuries says it’s safe.

Every high school should have a full-time athletic trainer. Now, fewer than half of high schools have these trainers. Cantu estimates that more than 4 million of the 7.7 million high school athletes never see a trainer.

Cantu says kids should not play tackle football before they are 14. (New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t.) At the very least, youth football teams should limit hitting during practice, as some teams and leagues already do.

Cantu also says kids should not body-check in hockey or head the ball in soccer until they are 14. Helmets should be required in field hockey and girls’ lacrosse. (Boys’ lacrosse players are required to wear helmets.) In youth baseball, every batting helmet should have a chin strap, and runners should not slide headfirst.

I’m not sure I agree with everything that Cantu says in the book. But he is an expert who has studied concussions for years. Maybe we should all listen to what he has to say.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids. His latest soccer book is “Go for the Goal!



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