By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor
As medical research continues to focus on concussions and the long-term effects of injuries to the brain through sports, it’s a wonder anyone plays sports at all.
The statistics about brain injuries in contact sports continue to shock and worry us, and rightfully so. We still don’t know how this will affect these athletes throughout their lives. We are learning, but we don’t know.
I suppose there are some who will deny their child a chance to participate in physical contact sports for fear of injury. The numbers already show that more parents are worried about letting their children play tackle football even though, equipment, coach and player education and continuing research is leading to a safer game.
Other parents are choosing “safer” sports such as soccer, where punishing body and head blows are not allowed. As we’ve learned, the highest number of concussions happen among high school female soccer players, even though more children play high school football.
We’ve also recently seen the statistics on cheerleading and concussion. I remember when cheerleading wasn’t even considered a sport because it was not deemed physical enough. Because of that perception, many high school programs failed to provide adequate equipment, coaching or education for girls who wanted to cheer.
We must have been in a fortunate situation in my high school. We had a coach who was very knowledgeable about sports and preventing sports injuries. She coached both volleyball and cheerleading in addition to the required physical education classes with the same concern for safety and a love of the game.
Our gym was equipped with thick mats, mini trampolines with swing harnesses and wall padding to prevent injuries. There was always one spotter for each position and the coach was always watching and instructing on form and safety.
I’ve heard that other schools relegated their cheerleaders to the parking lot, practice field and even the cafeteria sending a clear message that safety was not a concern.
But now we know safety is important in all sports. It’s important in life.
Kids are going to get hurt. Even kids who never play an organized sport in their life will probably end up with an injury during their lifetime. I got a broken nose and a concussion from raking the lawn. Well … I got a broken nose and concussion from sliding into a leaf pile and some kid twice my size slid into my face. I didn’t tell my mom my nose had poured blood that day. I also didn’t tell her the time a kid threw a rock at school and hit me in the temple and knocked me out. But she noticed something about me after both of those incidences; something wasn’t right. I was nauseated. The light hurt my eyes. I wanted to sleep more than usual. I didn’t feel well.
I wasn’t playing football, hockey, soccer or flying from the top of pyramid. I was just playing – like kids do.
If my mom told me then that I could no longer slide into a pile of leaves or run around a playground at school or tryout for cheerleading, I would have been a sad kid.
But my mom did something right. She took me to the doctor when she noticed I wasn’t acting normal.
We all know the risks and it is our responsibility to continue to learn as much as we can to prevent injuries and keep our children safe. The decision to play or not to play is ultimately up to the parents. Hopefully they will remember that the positive benefits of participating in sports far outweigh the negative. Watch your kids when they play. If you think your child isn’t acting normal during a game, have them sit it out.
Most importantly, learn about the signs to watch for and insist that rules are in place and policies followed if a brain injury is suspected. Let the kids play sports, but educate them about how to play safely and remind them that it’s okay to let a coach know if something is wrong.