“Concussion.”  It’s the title of a Will Smith movie.  And it’s the most-feared word in youth sports.  It’s back to school season, and it’s likely that students are already preparing for their sports seasons. Some school sports require summer practices and tryouts, and this is in addition (at times) to extracurricular league sports. Children who play sports are at a very increased risk of head injury, and this is compounded when they play both school and league sports.

Many parents aren’t aware that they can take steps to help prevent concussions in children before the sports season even starts.

1.  Baseline Testing

A Baseline Concussion Test is just that. Establishing a frame of reference. Before a sports season begins for a child, this preventative measure is meant to establish their baseline functioning capabilities – how fast they move, what their reaction time is, how quickly they process things, etc. This establishes how a child functions normally everyday outside of sports injury.

The main idea behind a Baseline Concussion Test is that it will come in handy after a child is injured. Once a child has potentially been concussed, the test is performed again. How far they deviate from the original test baseline can indicate how badly they are injured and informs both treatment and return-to-play timeline.

While US High School governing bodies mandate Impact testing, most recreational and travel leagues do not. It is worth contacting the local hospitals who sometimes offer free testing and education.

2.  Make Sure Children are Aware

As much as parents may want to shield their children from being hurt, the reality is that youth athletes are definitely at risk of various injuries. Parents have a definite responsibility to educate their children about not being reckless and the possibilities of injury they face playing the specific sport that they do. Teaching the kids to recognize the signs of a concussion and speak up to the coach or parents is invaluable.

For leagues, educating coaches is a must. More than anyone else, they should have the medical and health basic knowledge required to accurately inform children about concussions, how to stay safe, and what they should do in the event they believe they – or someone else has sustained a traumatic brain injury. In the case of concussions, it’s important to dismiss the “it’s ok to get your bell rung” mentality.

3. HEADS UP

One resource available to athletes, parents and coaches is HEADS UP. Formally called “The HEADS UP Concussion in Youth Sports initiative,” this resource is developed by the CDC with the purpose of helping prevent and manage concussions in youth sports.  The NFL Foundation has adapted it into their Heads Up Football regime, which involves new practice techniques including limited live tackling in practice.

The HEADS UP initiative offers specific resources to parents, athletes, sports officials and coaches – but why? Each one has a different responsibility and role in concussion management and the program is expertly designed to address each.

Concussions are a very serious part of youth sports. While there are numerous benefits that youth sports bring to children and communities, it’s also important to understand the risks they bring to players with a sense of realism. Knowing and understanding concussions is how a parent, a coach or an athlete can help take a scary situation and manage it to the best of their ability.