I don't know about you, but for me, it seems as if there has been a wave of news articles in recent months and years about catastrophic head injuries suffered by youngsters playing sports. Most of the time, these stories are associated with high school football players. The typical story line is that a player suffers a serious brain injury playing football and dies immediately. But a number of stories involve situations in which a player suffers a concussion, takes some time off, returns to the field, and dies. That was the exact story line from a local tragedy in New Kent County, Virginia, where a high school player returned to the field and died. Although most of these stories involve football players, they are certainly not limited to football. They arise in other sports including hockey, soccer, and wrestling.
So, if you are a parent or a coach of a youngster playing football, what can you do to prevent a catastrophic head injury? Chances are, you already know the answer. The keys to preventing catastrophic head injury in football have to do with how you play the sport, the equipment used to play the sport, and what a person should do once an injury happens.
First, as to technique, we really need to drill into our youngsters the "heads up" tackling method. It is critical to preventing the crunching blows to the head that cause concussions. It is also key to preventing injuries to the neck and spine. I think this issue has been stressed for many years in our youth football programs but, somewhere along the way, it gets lost. Flip on the television set and watch a college football game any Saturday in the fall. You'll lose count if you try to count all of the "head down" or "head first" collisions you see. It's as if players learn somewhere along the line that their head is an offensive weapon that should be used to punish the opposing player. Those tackles are pretty impressive to watch, but they take their toll on the head and are a tragedy waiting to happen.
As for the equipment, a player's helmet should fit very snug. It should fit properly. Every little league or school team should have a coach or advisor who knows his stuff when it comes to equipment and how it should fit.
Finally, when a concussion does happen, the medical procedures that have been put in place for dealing with them must be followed. But in addition to that, family members and those close to a youngster who has suffered a concussion must be vigilant and watch for changes in the individual. It is now well-accepted that concussion-like symptoms can continue for weeks, months or years following a traumatic brain injury. It is our role as parents to watch how a youngster is healing and to make 100% sure that the head injury has completely resolved before allowing the player back on the field. Err on the side of caution.