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Youth Leagues Focus On Concussion Prevention

Athletes are going to sustain injury. It’s part of playing sports.

But as athletes have become stronger and faster, the potential for injuries has increased. The harder you play, the harder you fall.

Between 1997 and 2007, concussions doubled for athletes between ages 8 and 19 in three sports — basketball, football and soccer. To combat the increase of concussions, national sports leagues began instituting concussion policies for testing.

The Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club — which offers baseball, soccer, football and basketball — recently joined the National Alliance for Youth Sports. The alliance provides training related to concussions in youth sports.

NAYS emphasizes three major factors when it comes to tackle football:

• proper equipment;

• proper technique;

• identifying and treating injuries.

“Helmets used in our program must be approved by National Operating Committee for Standards for Athletic Equipment,” said Jerry Glidewell, executive director of the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club. “There has been more focus regarding proper tackling techniques.”

Glidewell said Northside coach Mike Falleur and the Grizzlies staff provided a clinic for the volunteer coaches at the clubs. Southside co-defensive coordinator Steven Thessing also provides tackling lessons with the same philosophy.

“The adage ‘error on the side of safety’ is always a good rule to go by when it comes to potential injuries in youth sports,” Glidewell said.

Longtime FSB&GC volunteer Johnny Young said all volunteer coaches should take courses about concussions — how to prevent them and when to know whether it’s safe to allow players who have had concussions back on the field.

“The Boys Club has really heightened the awareness about concussions,” Young said. “We are told, ‘If you see any signs, get them off the field.’ It was great having coach Falleur out there, teaching us proper tackling techniques.”

Young, who has been coaching with the club since 1994, said he’s had some resistance from parents when he’s teaching proper tackling form.

“It used to be that you would stick your helmet in the (opposing) players’ chest, but you lead with your shoulder,” Young said. “In our practice, we teach them to lead with their shoulder, and I’ve had some interference with dads who are telling me I’m teaching it wrong.”

While a lot of attention has been paid to concussions and the after-effects among professional football players, there is growing concern about traumatic brain injuries in youth sports. In the past two weeks, two deaths have been linked to high school football concussions. Flagstaff, Ariz., senior Charles Youvella and Tipton, Mo., junior Chad Stover both died as a result of concussions.

According to data provided by Center of Disease Control, high school athletes suffer 2 million injuries each year. More than 500,000 of those require a visit to a doctor and more than 30,000 are forced to stay in the hospital.

Not surprisingly, there are three times as many catastrophic football injuries among high school athletes as college athletes. A large number of those cases are the result of poor tackling.

“I had coach (Doug) Pogue at Chaffin tell me one time that he would prefer his seventh-graders to have not ever played football before junior high, so they don’t develop bad habits, like tackling,” Young said. “I took that as a challenge, to make sure we teach them right, so don’t have to be trained all over again.”

Between 2001-09, it was estimated that 2,651,581 U.S. children 19 and younger were treated annually for sports and recreation-related injuries. About 6.5 percent, or 173,285, of these cases involved traumatic brain injuries such as concussions. Between 2008-09, there were 400,000 reported concussions among high school athletes.

A 2011 study of U.S. high schools with at least one athletic trainer on staff found that concussions accounted for nearly 15 percent of all sports-related injuries.

But it’s not just football players who have to worry.

Veteran Southside basketball coach Charlie Cooper said the biggest culprit with basketball concussions is a wet spot on the court. Cooper remembers one such case while serving as an assistant at Northside many years ago.

“We had a kid at Northside who slipped on the wet gym floor during warm-up at Greenwood and suffered a concussion,” Cooper said. “He had no idea where he was. He actually went to the other end of the floor and started shooting with the Greenwood players. He went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion.

“I do believe there have been a lot of kids in the past who have suffered them, but people today are just more attentive to it.”

Similar programs have been in place in Greenwood for years. The high school uses a concussion assessment program known as ImPACT.

ImPACT is a computerized exam utilized by many professional, collegiate and high school athletic programs across the country to better diagnose and manage concussions. This non-invasive test is set up in “video game” format and takes about 20-25 minutes to complete. It tracks information such as memory, reaction time, speed, and concentration. A pre-season test is administered in order to form a baseline. If, during the season, a player is suspected of receiving a concussion, the test is re-administered. The results of both tests are reviewed by medical staff to evaluate the injury. A player wouldn’t be allowed to return to the field until cleared by a physician.

Greenwood’s little league football program, the Pittbulls, does not use ImPACT, but its coaches train with the Greenwood High School Coaching Staff. “It’s something Coach Jones has done as long as he’s been here,” Chris Climer said. Climer is the man running the Pittbull program. “All of our coaches are CPR certified and whenever there is a new training program that we can take online, Coach Jones gets ahold of me and we take the course. Additionally, we have several kids whose parents are doctors and nurses and they help out as well.”

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