Concussion Series Part 5: Youth Football Will Evolve To Make The Game Safer

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc

In the last four blog posts we’ve taken a look at several aspects of sideline concussion diagnosis, impact sensing technology, and possible medical testing on the horizon to objectively diagnose a concussion.  Many sports commentators (and football coaches) wonder whether the possibility of concussions will eventually “take the hit out of the game”.

I don’t think that will happen, but the awareness of issues surrounding concussions isn’t going to go away either.  The rising awareness of concussions will force the game and the technology to evolve.

In my opinion, here are a few things that I predict will occur to keep young players as safe as possible while preserving the intensity of youth and high school football.

Youth and High School Coaches Must Be Aware of Possible Concussion and Remove Those Players From Play

We dealt with this in last week’s post and we provide resources for coaches with Sideline Sports Doc.  Awareness of a possible concussion requires zero technology at the most basic level and is something all coaches need to be aware of right now.  The youth coach’s job is not to diagnose a concussion, it’s only to make a judgment of whether you think the player might have a concussion.  Leave the diagnosis and return to play to a trained medical professional.  My viewpoint is extremely cautious and will definitely lead to an increase in the number of players with suspected concussion, but for a volunteer sports coach it’s the only way to go.

Continue to Teach Proper Technique Within The Rules Of The Game

The vast majority of youth coaches do an excellent job teaching technique and the rules of the game have evolved to reduce the chance of serious injury.  Proper tackling technique will keep the impact in the game while minimizing risk to the player.

Helmet Technology Will Evolve

The risk to the occupant in a passenger automobile has decreased dramatically over the past 2 decades as laws were enacted and the technology to stay within the law followed.  Automakers initially viewed the laws as a burden but now use passenger safety as a powerful marketing tool.  I would predict that helmet technology will evolve along a similar path.

Objective Analysis of Impact- Further Research To Correlate To Concussion

I’m impressed with the efforts underway to measure impact within a helmet.  Where I believe we need to go next is to gather scientific data to then use the impact data in a predictive fashion.  We need to try and figure out things such as the amount of impact in a single event that places an athlete at risk for concussion, the cumulative effect of multiple smaller impacts, and differences in age groups.

Sophisticated Neurologic Testing Will Make Its Way To The Sideline

A standardized paper based test like the SCAT helps a lot, and the ImPACT computer based testing is moving us in the right direction but these tools are most helpful when compared to a preseason baseline test.  The most exciting developments will likely come from sideline brain wave testing or variations of the King-Devick test that could actually be used at the time of injury to determine concussion status.

Taken together these possible developments should help to make the game safer for young athletes while still recognizing that collision and impact will always be a part of football.

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