NFL Youth Health & Safety Luncheon

What a fabulous experience! The NFL extended an invitation to have some of the bloggers from attend a luncheon about concussion awareness and prevention. Sarah Bourne and I attended the event at the NFL headquarters in NYC last Wednesday and were in the company of many esteemed guests including, iVillage, Babble, Parenting Magazine, Family Circle, Nickelodeon, Scholastic, and Redbook , to name a few.

Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, spoke on a panel with Dr. Gerard Gioia of the Children’s National Medical Center Division of Neuropsychology, Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a Neuropsychologist at NorthShore University Health System and Head Injury consultant to the Chicago Bears, Kelly Sarmiento from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,  Scott Hallenbeck, Executive Director of USA Football and Corie Elkin, a USA Football coach. Each of the panelists presented interesting information and useful resources that are helpful, whether your children participate in organized sports or not.

What struck me was the large number of children and adults who experience sports and recreation related concussions annually– between 1.6-3 million.  Interestingly enough, bicycles are the number one reason for concussion visits to the ER for kids 19 and younger, so even if you don’t think your child will ever play a contact sport, it is important that you know how to identify signs of a concussion!  Also interesting–while bicycle helmets are extremely important for preventing skull fractures and serious brain injuries, helmets do not protect against concussions.

What you need to know about concussions? Dr. Gioia explained that our brain is sort of like the consistency of mayonnaise, so when a kid’s head wips back and forth real quick the brain jossels around like mayo being shaken in the jar. A concussion is caused by a blow to the head or body and can happen even if you haven’t been knocked unconscious.  Most athletes with a concussion get better and return to sports, but it is important to rest and give your brain time to heal. It is important to get a concussion injury checked out right away because unlike with some other injuries, playing or practicing with concussion symptoms is dangerous and can lead to longer recovery.

Talk about concussions has made a lot of news in recent months, as numerous former athletes whose concussions went unaddressed now face long-term problems.  These stories definitely freak me out.  I get overwhelmed thinking about my 3 year old playing football someday or my 4 month old playing soccer. As was mentioned at the event, kids are getting concussions in all sports and as a parent you need to weigh the pros and cons of having your children participate in sports.

I was an athlete growing up, as was my husband. We’ll encourage our kids to do whatever they are interested in (within reason), but if they are interested in sports I will definitely support that decision. Sports played a major role in my life and still do.  So, although concussions are scary, if you know what signs to look for, get immediate attention, and give your child’s brain the appropriate amount of rest, your kid can enjoy the benefits of being an athlete on a team and stay safe!

Where  can you find information on how to recognize and prevent a concussion injury? The CDC with their initiative, “Heads Up”, has a great website with plenty of information on concussions and early detection.  The website has  information on concussion signs and symptoms, an action plan for what to do if you suspect that your child has a concussion, and customizable materials for leagues and teams.  You can also order materials free of charge.  The CDC plans to release an app soon that will allow parents and coaches to check for signs of concussion and send reports right to parents and/or medical practitioners via the phone.

In addition to the CDC’s website, USA Football also has a website with fabulous information on identifying concussions and their initiative, “Heads Up Football”.  They too have an app that brings important information right to our fingertips. In partnership with the NFL, USA Football is trying to make the game of football safer.  USA Football is home to the only football coaching course certified by the National Council for Accreditation Of Coaching Education, emphasizing a smarter way to tackle and the importance of equipment fitting.

“Tough Guy Mentality” The Commissioner was asked a question regarding “football culture”–what is the NFL doing to combat the mentality that you need to suck-it-up and keep playing, regardless of whether you are hurt.  He explained that his coaches and USA Football are going out and speaking to school and town league coaches to spread the word about the importance of safety, but he wasn’t naive to the fact that there are a lot of coaches and players out there who will still utter the mantra, “toughen up”.  He asked that we, as parents, take an active role in promoting safety in all sports and if we see that our child’s coach isn’t having the kids practice safely or has a kid who looks like they might be experiencing concussion symptoms in the game, that we say something.  Now that we are armed with the information, it is important that we take a more active role in our children’s participation in sports.

Overall, our day at the NFL was extremely informative and exciting. I learned quite a bit about football, definitely made my husband jealous, and got comfortable with the idea of having my kids play contact sports!



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