[Parents] Use your Head: Recognizing Concussions in Young Athletes

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Parents Watching Youth Football Game

Concussions happen more often, and in more sports than just Football—and it affects the health and well-being of our children. Parents know their children’s behaviour better than anyone and can identify signs of concussion early when they know what to look for.  Today’s post is by guest blogger Eddie Duncan. Eddie writes frequently about youth sports, and shares with us today some key information parents need to know about youth concussions.

Over the past several years there have been an increasing amount of attention around concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in the media.  And it’s not just big head-to-head collisions in the NFL that brings the topic to the forefront.  More and more stories of concussions in young athletes across the country from grade school to high school, have come to surface.

Fortunately, the medical community has given players and coaches’ tools and information necessary to more thoroughly recognize and treat concussion symptoms.  But unfortunately, many programs overlook symptoms to push athletes to perform, or players ignore signs, brushing them off in fear of losing play time or being cut.

Because of this, responsibility ultimately falls on parents to know how to recognize early signs of concussions, beyond the “big hit”.  They are the ones closet to their child and know how they act and behave on a regular basis. Catching symptoms before the young athlete gets back on the field or court can save them from further injury, long-term neurological disorders, paralysis, or worse.

Signs for Parents to Watch
Watching a child take a big hit in a game is nothing easy to swallow for parents, and there’s always a sigh of relief when the child gets up unscathed. But concussions go unseen.  Signs and symptoms can show up immediately or may take hours to be noticed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look out for these signs after a big hit:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, or remembering
  • Feeling slowed down or hazy
  • Headaches or a feeling of pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance issues
  • Blurry vision or sensitivity to light
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Irritability, sadness, nervous, or generally more emotional
  • Sleep issues:  too much or too little

More Awareness Benefits Everyone
There is good news.  Over 42 states have passed laws to reduce concussions in youth sports. Many parents have to sign concussion information forms before their child can participate each season.  And many coaches have to attend concussion training sessions and are required to pull athletes from the game if showing any symptoms of brain trauma.  In addition to education on what signs to report, athletes also need to know that it’s okay to miss out on some play today if it means they can play more down the road.

As more awareness develops, more youth will be able to more fully enjoy their favorite sports, more coaches will retain competitive players, and more parents will enjoy seeing their athletes shine.  Remind your players to keep their head in the game, just not literally.

Eddie Duncan is a Senior Editor at Direct2tv and loves to write and research about youth sports.

For more information on how to keep your kids safe visit The Network for Public Health Law and STOP Sports Injuries.

Image Credit: By Chiew Pang, Flickr

When is it Too young and Too soon for Endurance Events?

Competing in endurance events like marathons and triathlons is fun, exciting, fulfilling, though at times is grueling and arduous. The grueling aspects can be the heavy weeks of training and even the race itself. Not only from a physical aspect, but an emotional one.

If this is true for adult athletes what about youth athletes? When are athletes considered too young to compete in endurance events? And, what is the parents’ role when a child wants to compete in physically demanding events? Should there be an age minimum set by race organizers? These are interesting questions for parents, coaches and sports enthusiasts. To stimulate thought and discussion, I’ve included here, stories of pre-adolescent children competing in events that most adults would find challenging if not unimaginable.

Story One: The ‘Pixie’ Runners
I came across a news story recently that provides a real life, yet extreme example of young athletes competing in such events. It goes like this, two young girls, sisters, age ten and twelve compete in endurance events, marathons, half marathons, and triathlons. They compete in tough events; trail marathons [full and half] and shorter races, usually consisting of difficult trails in high altitudes. The older child, Kaytlynn, petite and tiny, weighing not more than sixty pounds competed in over ninety events in the last two years. Her sister, apparently not as ‘serious’ as her older sister, competed in just over seventy.

Kaytlynn at age 11, after completing the full marathon in Texas, Cedar Horn

According to the NYT article, the girls often cry during their races, even after if they don’t win, or when they are hurt. Though Kaytlynn does enjoy running, she says this, “running is fun, even though it hurts sometimes” and, she continues, “it makes a purpose in my life.” Click here for the full story, and here for a slide show of these [adorable] girls (Bearak, 2012).

I find this story disturbing for several reasons. I’ve competed and trained for several half and full marathons, and know the physical and time commitments required. The benefits of training hard are worth the effort, yet I only run three or four endurance events a year. These children are running every other weekend.  I wonder how these kids will feel about running when they are teenagers, and even more importantly, what kind of relationship they will have with their parents.  What do you think the role of the parents should be in this situation? Should they be encouraging their girls as this father appears to do, or should they restrict the participation even though Kaytlynn loves running and is obviously a gifted athlete?

View of Alcatraz on the water.
1.5mi from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park, more mileage if swimming against currents

Story Two: Seven-year Old Goes to Alcatraz
Seven-year old boy, Braxton of Arizona, was the youngest ever to swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco’s Aquatic Park back in 2006. According to the news story, the young swimmer got the idea after reading an article in a magazine about a nine-year old who had just completed the swim (this seems a stretch that a seven-year old is reading magazine articles, however…). The boy approached his swim coach, the coach agreed to help him prepare, and training preparation began [I’m assuming with his parents support].

The boy trained for two hours a day, four times a week. He also completed training swims in several Arizona lakes and completed a trip to the San Francisco Bay the month before the race to prepare for the event.  In an interview before the event, Braxton said this, “It kind of seems like a long way, but I’m not totally worried. It’s not that far.” (AP, 2006)

What do you think?
What do you think of these two stories? It’s hard not to be impressed by these amazing feats …. if done by adults, yet for young children not fully developed, physically and emotionally?  The risks associated with competing and training for endurance events are numerous including, injury, chronic fatigue and burnout. These are all exacerbated when there is little down time between each; training then becomes a ‘job’, and not simply a hobby or pastime. When training comes first, and significant time and financial resources are devoted to it, the ‘fun’ and enjoyment is in danger of wearing a bit thin. I have mixed feelings about young athletes competing in endurance events; in these stories above I don’t think it’s healthy, yet on a smaller scare? Perhaps. My daughter competed in a half marathon when she was fifteen, and it was a positive experience, yet I won’t let her compete in a full marathon until she turns eighteen.

What do you think of these unique and athletically gifted children? Share your thoughts with a comment if you are so inclined.

Photo Credits: 1) Young Runner, by Toronto Rob (Flickr), 2) Kaytlynn, Fiftystatesmarathon, (Flickr),  3) Alcatraz, luxomedia’s photostream (Flickr),

Is it Back-to-School or Back-to-Football?

Does High School football upstage academics?

Back-to-school time is my favorite time of year, not just because my kids are out of the house and back into a routine, but I have the wild idea that they will be intellectually challenged and learning great things. Which I’m confident will happen for the most part.  And, I know learning reaches beyond their academic studies.  High school teaches kids life lessons through friendships – relationships with authority figures, teachers and coaches, as well as about rules and boundaries.

Participation in school sports provides yet another opportunity for learning, the sport skills aside, more importantly it’s the teamwork, cooperation and discipline. Yet these past two weeks I’ve noticed football, football and more football – to the point that it is,  back-to-football. High school football in the United States appears to hold a special status; regional and even national newspapers have a section dedicated in their news reports for high school athletics (now dominated by football), and even football athlete ‘profiles’ in local magazines and newspapers.

I suggest that our current culture focuses on High School football at the expense of school academics and other activities. Furthermore, football and other high-profile varsity sports can even discourage sports participation in other less gifted students, and divert attention and funds away from other beneficial activities.  I could provide a long list of examples to support my hypothesis, though I’ll limit it to just a few for the sake of your time.

Here are some examples I came across this week:

Los Angeles Times

Above: USA Today, September 4, 2012

Above: Orange County Illustrated, September 4, 2012

Above image from  Max Preps company website:

MaxPreps is America’s Source for High School Sports. We are proud to be involved with America’s hometown heroes – the young men and women working hard to improve their skills, place team above self, and serve as inspirations to their local communities. MaxPreps aspires to cover every team, every game and every player. We do this in partnership with nearly 25,000 varsity coaches throughout the United States.

I encourage parents and coaches to come to their own conclusions, but think of this: what message might we be sending to  high school kids when school sports results and performance make regional and national sports headlines? Or when athletes are featured in local magazine profiles in glossy full pages given a celebrity-like status? I am thinking not just of our own children, but students of our community – from diverse backgrounds, different cultures, family structures, or socio economic backgrounds.

There is some interesting research in this area, which I’ll save for another post. In the meantime it is back-to-school time, an exciting time of year. A fresh start for students to tackle a new school year, to learn, grow and learn those life skills that they will need to take our place.