Concussions and Young Athletes: Pt. 3 of 3

In the first two installments of this series, we have looked at the nature of concussions and how students here at U-32 have dealt with them. The Chronicle concludes our study by examining what precautions we take here and what other schools around the state are doing to prevent concussions in their young athletes.

Steve Towne is a Physical Education teacher here at U-32. He is also the coach of the Boys Varsity Championship soccer team. Despite the level of contact inherent in the sport, his team remained relatively injury free this past season. We asked him how he achieved this.

Chronicle: Your team had no concussions throughout the season, any comments on that?

Coach Towne: Actually we had one minor one, a slight concussion early on, preseason. Immediately after it happened, the player was pulled from the field. He was evaluated and had a slow progress coming back to the game. Obviously we were taking our time and being conscious about it.

Chronicle: How do you train your team to avoid concussions when heading the ball is so much a part of the sport?

Coach Towne: Overall, the majority of the concussions for soccer is usually a head to head blow. Training wise, you teach the kids the technique. Really in soccer it’s one of those developmental things, and as they progress up through the years, the technique improves. If you are doing it correctly, then it’s not the ball that will give you the concussions, it’s still the head to head contact.

Chronicle: Do you think that repeatedly heading the ball is a big part of practice or a game?

Coach Towne: We don’t spend a large amount of time heading the ball over and over again. With the current studies in heading with younger players, there are safety factors that are being put into place right now. The National Soccer Association are limiting heading the ball in practice to only U13 and above. U11 and U12 are allowed to head in games, but it’s not a practice. U10 and younger aren’t allowed to head in practice or in games. This is an effort to try to prevent major concussions with youths.

Senior Sam Thompson, who has never had a concussion, shared the fundamentals of heading the ball:
“You keep your eye on the ball at all times and position yourself so that the ball hits the center of your forehead. You do not use your neck at all, but lean forward with your whole body to put power behind it. If done correctly, heading the ball doesn’t hurt. If not, it reallllly hurts.”

The Chronicle turned our attention to what other major high schools were doing to prevent and treat concussions in young athletes. Spaulding, U-32, Harwood and Essex Junction, are all using the Heads Up Program from the CDC (Center of Disease control), This program is trying to prevent concussions from happening by changing the way practices are conducted.

The Heads Up Program from the CDC is broken into four simple steps:
1. Remove the athlete from play.
2. Ensure the athlete is evaluated immediately by an appropriate health care professional.
3. Inform the athlete’s parents or guardians of the possible concussion.
4. Only allow the athlete to return to participation after he or she is cleared by an appropriate health care professional and institute your league’s return-to-play policy.

Most doctors treat a concussion like any injury that can affect how you work or move around. They recommend the following:
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  • Get plenty of sleep at night, and take it easy during the day.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Do not take any other medicines unless your doctor says it is okay.
  • Avoid activities that are physically or mentally demanding (including housework, exercise, schoolwork, video games, text messaging, or using the computer). You may need to change your school or work schedule while you recover.
  • Ask your doctor when it’s okay for you to drive a car, ride a bike, or operate machinery.
    Use ice or a cold pack on any swelling for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Use pain medicine as directed. Your doctor may give you a prescription for pain medicine or recommend you use a pain medicine that you can buy without a prescription, such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol).

While most people completely recover from their concussions, it can take months for the symptoms to disappear. In rare cases, people have experience emotional, mental or physical changes that last for longer than originally expected. Repeat concussions should be avoided because even though they are rarely fatal, they can increase the chances of getting permanent brain damage. Due to the amount of medical research surrounding concussions in young athletes like Dr. Jim Hudziak’s, the prevention and treatment of concussions are being taken very seriously in local high schools.

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