Concussions are the most common type of brain injury, especially among athletes. A concussion is typically caused by a blow to the head that forces the brain to bounce against the skull which causes brain cells to be stretched and damaged. According to the CDC, this can result in serious chemical changes in the brain.
This damage is especially dangerous for youths since their brains are not fully developed yet and cognitive development could be permanently stunted. Every year, approximately 300,000 young athletes sustain some sort of head injury, with 90% of those head injuries being concussions. What is even more disturbing is that up to 50% of athletes don’t say anything because they do not want to be taken out of the game. David Hetiz described this “Culture of Resistance” in his 2013 article “Dangerous Concussions on the Rise in Youth sports; young players feel obligated to remain in the game in order not to not let down their teammates, coaches, and even parents. This results in many undiagnosed concussions, which can cause further complications in the future.
With concussions among young athletes on the rise, The Safety in Youth Sports Act has been set into place that not only focuses on player safety, but also focuses on educating players, coaches, and parents about the signs and dangers of concussions. This piece of legislation that went into effect in 2012 combines the efforts of parents, coaches, players, and medical professionals so that if a child does get a concussion, he/she can get the best care. The law focuses on three mandatory protocols that when combined, can effectively help prevent and care for those with concussions.
The faster that a concussion is assessed and diagnosed, the better the chances for full recovery; patients need to begin the healing process immediately. To step up the game in assessing a concussion sooner, the responsibility falls on the coaches and their ability to assess the damage and take immediate action. Under this new law, coaches must instantly remove any student-athlete from play if they suspect the player might have a concussion. In many cases, the athlete might not exhibit any symptoms and be adamant that they feel fine to play. However, concussion symptoms may not develop for several days, weeks, or even months after the initial impact. The only way to ensure the fastest care is to take immediate action and take the player out of the game if a concussion is suspected.
Once a player is taken off the field because of a suspected concussion, the player should immediately seek medical treatment. The impact of just one concussion can result is serious brain damage if the head does not heal properly. Since a player who has suffered a concussion is three to six times more likely to suffer another, it is imperative that the player follows a strict clearance protocol to return to play.
Under the Safety in Youth Sports Act, the athlete cannot return to play until he/she is cleared, in writing, by a medical professional or licensed physician. According to Sports Medicine on UPMC Health Beat, licensed psychologists may clear a student to begin playing, but only if he or she is trained at the postdoctoral level in neuropsychology and the evaluation and management of concussions. The following lists of doctors from UPMC Health Beat focus specifically on brain injury:
- Primary care sports medicine physicians
- Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians
- Neurovestibular rehabilitation therapists
- Exertion physical therapists
- Athletic trainers working in the local school systems
Coaches and parents may not give permission for their child to return to play.
Another part of the legislation is to educate players and their parents about being safe, and the dangers of concussions, as well as the risk involved when playing their sport. The PA Department of Health and the Department of Education will now provide mandatory information to student-athletes and their parents. The PIAA Comprehensive Initial Pre-Participation Evaluation Form has a section that provides parents with education regarding the risks of a traumatic brain injury that is associated with their sport. If a child is to have permission to play a sport, parents and athletes now must sign this form to acknowledge the concussion risks. Sections 3, 4, 6, and 7 all have new language regarding the Safety in Youth Sports Act. (Edward Snell, MD, 2013) Parents and student-athletes can also find information at Heads Up Information for Parents (CDC).
Coaches are also required to educate themselves on concussions under the Safety in Youth Sports Act. Coaches must complete a free online training and receive a certificate from the Centers for Disease Control, The National Federation of State High School Associates, and the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainer’s Society. The school district is also responsible under the Safety in Youth Sports Act to make sure that the coaches complete this education annually. Online training can be found at the Heads Up Online Training (CDC).
Consequences For Not Complying
There are serious consequences for coaches and players alike if they do not comply with the protocol of the Safety in Youth Sports Act. According to UPMC Sports Medicine the law breaks down the consequences into three offences:
- First offence – The coach is suspended from all coaching and athletic activity for the rest of the season
- Second offence – The coach is suspended from all coaching and athletic activity for the remainder of the current season and the next season
- Third offence – The coach is permanently suspended from all coaching and athletic activity.
While the consequences for not complying and the new protocol under the new legislation may seem excessive or harsh, the consequences for not caring for a concussion can have a life-long impact on the athlete and their family. The more concussions sustained over time, the more one is likely to have mental impairments, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).