Category Archives: Other Sports

‘Friday Night Tykes’—Forming Character or Scrambling Brains?

Whatever it’s being called — “docuseries” or “reality TV” — Esquire Network’s new series “Friday Night Tykes” is showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of youth football as practiced by the Texas Youth Football Association. In a recent episode, a coach points to the earhole in the helmet of one of his charges and says, “Hit everybody right here. They’re going to lose players, one at a time.”

Those players are eight and nine-years-old, and many of their parents see the coach’s directive as a way to develop toughness and discipline in their children. Chris Hummel, an Ithaca College faculty member, concussion researcher, and certified athletic trainer, sees it differently.

“That kind of coaching is dangerous,” Hummel said. “Concussion education has dominated the sports news for the last three or four years. How can this be the direction given to a developing eight or nine year old?”

Collisions in football are inevitable, but Hummel believes changes in state laws, rules, practice and coaching techniques, and helmet technology can significantly increase player safety, in Texas and everywhere else.

“The Heads Up method of tackling helps,” said Hummel, referring to USA Football’s recommended program of safe tackling techniques. “But tackling should be significantly reduced or even eliminated for those under 12. Limiting the number of collisions per practice or game has far reaching consequences. Typically, a player concussed in youth football takes longer to recover than a player concussed in the NFL. We’re only beginning to understand the possible long term effects of concussions in youth athletes.”

On-field measures work best, Hummel added, when backed by community-wide concussion education—something not evident in “Friday Night Tykes.”

“Teaching parents, athletes, and coaches how to recognize concussions is vital. So are measures making sure athletic trainers are on the sidelines and doctors in the community are current with concussion management. Keeping youth football players safe really does take a village.”

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The Danger of Headers Returns to the Headlines

Influential journalist Stefan Fatsis has restarted the debate oh whether headers in soccer should be outlawed, at least at the youth levels.

The impetus for his column, which appeared in slate.com, were revelations a few days earlier that former MSL soccer player Patrick Grange was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy when he died in 2012 at age 29 after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare, incurable neurodegenerative disease.

“We can’t say for certain that heading the ball caused his condition in this case,” Boston University neuropathologist Ann McKee, who examined Grange’s brain, told the media. “But it is noteworthy that he was a frequent header of the ball, and he did develop this disease. I’m not sure we can take it any further than that.”

But Fatsis did.

“It shouldn’t take much to persuade an impartial observer that heading in youth soccer is pointless. Watch a recreational or even an elite travel soccer game involving preadolescents,” wrote Fatsis.soccer2013

“Heading, when it occurs, is usually a random act. Eyes shut. Head scrunched into neck. Shoulders clenched. The ball usually makes contact on the top or the rear of the skull. It isn’t directed to a specific place—to a teammate, toward the goal, out of bounds. It ricochets to points unknown, in direct opposition to a fundamental teaching tenet of the sport. Players would get better at soccer by learning to control the ball out of the air with other parts of their bodies.”

The Slate story is available here:

http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2014/02/soccer_headers_and_children_why_kids_shouldn_t_be_allowed_to_hit_the_ball.html

 

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Attorney: Even a minor blow can lead to a concussion

Brooks Schuelke, a brain injury lawyer  of Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP in Austin, wants the world to know that researchers “are finding out that even a very slight blow is all that is needed to begin the cascade of faulty brain signals being sent through the brain’s white matter.”

Brooks Schuelke

The studies indicate that there are differences in the white matter of the brain in contact sport athletes versus non-contact sport athletes, according to the attorney. The study group results raise the question as to what factors may account for the changes in memory and learning ability and whether those changes are short-term or long-term.

“The study involves 80 college footballers and hockey players that had no history of concussions. Each athlete had a brain scan and took several memory and learning tests. Subsequently, group members received a high-tech helmet that recorded the acceleration rate of the head after an impact,” he said, adding the data from the concussion-free players was compared to athletes who played in non-contact sports.

The whole group was broken out into subgroups that identified players scoring lower than what was expected on their tests, according to Schuelke. Roughly 20 percent of contact sport players and 11 percent of non-contact sport players showed a change in the nerve networks on the right side of their brains. In summary, the changes in white matter in athletes playing contact sports were higher in the poorly performing group, which indicated a likely link to how hard and how often a player had been hit in the head.

The fact that low level concussions may also cause serious brain issues later in life for younger players is something parents, schools and other educational institutions need to take into consideration when designing sports programs, according to Schuelke. The latest revelations that a concussion has the capacity to double an individual’s risk of developing epilepsy within five years is yet another reason to closely examine the risks of sports that typically involve head injuries.

“There are approximately 173,285 brain injuries every year, sustained as a result of playing sports. Most of the victims are boys who play football and girls who participate in cheerleading. Of the 173,285 head injuries, at least 70.5 percent of the patients are between the ages of 10 and 19-years-old. These figures are food for thought about the safety of our younger generation,” he added. “If your child is playing a contact sport and they have not been properly warned about the risks involved or have not been provided with the right type of protective equipment, and they get hurt, we need to discuss compensation for those injuries.”

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