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2 kids in football helmets Sam and Zach R. wear football helmets at USA Football's Protection Tour event in Indianianpolis. (Photo courtesy Grace Ybarra)

Tackling Head Injuries

Educating the next generation of football players on concussions

By Grace Ybarra | October 5 , 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — An estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions happen in the U.S. every year. More than 170,000 of these cases are traumatic brain injuries in kids aged 5 to 18. Football causes more concussions than any other sport, so organizers are trying to minimize the danger associated with the game.

USA Football, the governing body of American youth football, recently visited cities across the nation to educate the next generation of players and parents on head injuries. On July 21, the Protection Tour hit the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, which happens to be the training ground for the Indianapolis Colts.

There, young football players learned how to tackle properly and got their helmets accurately fitted. Meanwhile, insurance company Chartis educated parents on head injuries off-field.

Zach R., an 11 year-old wide receiver, was present at the event. "I learned that without a proper helmet you will have a better chance of getting more concussions," says Zach. He was also taught how to spot the symptoms of a concussion in other players.

Nathan Lafayette, an insurance executive at Chartis, has first-hand experience with the dangers of head trauma. While playing in the National Hockey League more than a decade ago, he suffered a massive hit. Dazed, he skated over to the opposite team's bench, unsure of what was going on. Trainers sent him back out onto the ice and let him play the rest of the game. But it wasn't until that night that he realized how serious his injury was — he didn't even remember the game he had just played!

Head injuries eventually forced Lafayette into early retirement. He now works at Chartis and is helping to spread the word about concussions.

"It has impacted me personally, and now that I'm a parent of two kids I feel that they as kids should know more about it," says Lafayette. "Also, if the parents of their teammates know more about it, then it is easier to recognize that first concussion. One of the biggest concerns is when a child has a second impact."

Second-impact syndrome (SIS) occurs when the brain swells after a second concussion while the first concussion has not yet healed. It is especially dangerous for kids between the ages of 4 and 18 because their brains are still maturing. As a result, there is a higher SIS fatality rate among children.

"The best way to treat a head injury is to identify it, take them out of potential issues that could cause prolongation of recovery, and then a proper return that safely helps them get back into sport," says Dr. Patrick Kersey, USA Football Medical Director and team doctor of the Colts.

Educating kids and parents on the severity of concussions will hopefully decrease the number of annual head injuries for children.

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