Youth Leagues Adapt To Combat Concussions

September 28, 2012 / Sports Medicine & Nutrition
Poughkeepsie Journal


Playing football for Poughkeepsie High School 20 years ago, and playing for the Poughkeepsie Pioneers Pop Warner program even before that, Karega Wood remembers how coaches treated head injuries.

“The coach would say, ‘Get back in the game.’ It was a macho thing,” Wood said, mimicking the coach giving a slap to the player’s helmet. “You didn’t want to seem too soft.”

Now a coach himself, of the Pioneers’ 5- to 7-year-old Tiny Mites Blue team, Wood is still concerned — as are most youth football coaches in the mid-Hudson Valley — just not about machismo.

“Parents are worried. The issue of concussions is obviously a serious one,” he said.

While data regarding youth football concussions is limited, concern is fueled by publicity about repeat concussions causing permanent brain injury and by related lawsuits brought by more than 3,000 ex-NFL players or their surviving relatives that charge the league failed to warn them about concussion risks. The suicides of several former pro players suspected or found to have had concussion-related brain damage has heightened worry.

Accordingly, local programs have made gradual changes to promote safety, from increased education for coaches and kids to altering practice regulations and improving fundamental tackling techniques.

While any concussion can be dangerous, Dr. J. Keith Festa, chief medical officer at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie and the Marlboro School District’s physician for 24 years, noted concern is particularly focused on “second impact syndrome” — acute brain swelling that results from a concussion being sustained before a person’s brain has fully healed from an earlier concussion.

“The belief is there’s increased risk if an athlete is not completely asymptomatic from an earlier concussion. That can be extremely dangerous, even deadly,” Festa said.

Beth Kates, the National Center for Sports Safety’s outreach coordinator and a professional sports trainer who has worked with fourth-graders up through NFL Europe players, said, nationally, trainers have long worried about concussions, but, “the general public just ignored us, especially youth leagues.”

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