Archive for September, 2010

Kids and concussions: Listen to what a top doctor has to say…

This past Sunday AM on my WFAN radio show, I asked my brother — who’s one of the top pediatric neurologists in the country – for his professional opinion about kids, parents, and concussions.

Here’s what Dr. Robert Wolff of Children’s Hospital in Boston had to say — and on a personal note from me….IF YOU ARE A SPORTS PARENT WHOSE SON OR DAUGHTER PLAYS A CONTACT SPORT, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO READ ALL OF THIS:

“My observation is that youngsters who sustain mild brain injuries characterized by transient confusion, balance problems, or amnesia of even a brief duration need to be immdiately removed from play and the possibility of further head injury. However, the vast, vast majority of such children recover entirely, and have no lingering symptoms of concussion. Such children if indeed asymptomatic at both rest and with exercise may, after a graded re-entry, may return to play at a minimum of 7 days.

“In my personal experience of more than 30 years, taking care of hundreds and hundreds of such children, my impression is they go on to do well and do not present with early signs of CTE. This is a personal observation. No large scale prospective studies have been done, although some are now underway at Children’s Hospital in Boston and other large centers.

“Most sports do indeed have inherent risks and some much more than others. The act of simply driving your child across town to chess practice may pose a much more significant risk if one considers the actual statistics of youth mortality in auto accidents.

“My own perspective on the risks of allowing play in football or ice hockey (incidentally both my sons played these sports in high school) is that I feel the participation in these activities had many more positive benefits than the potential risks. I would insist, however, that my kids’ coaches were fully educated about concussions, and would take the time to educate the team members about the importance of how to identify and report them immediately to eliminate the risk of greater injury.”

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The Derek Jeter controversy: What do you say to your young athlete?

I can’t recall any one moment from my more than two decades of working in the sports parenting field that has generated more controversy that the so-called Derek Jeter incident. That incident, as most of you know, occurred when he was seemingly hit by a pitch on his hand when in fact the ball struck the knob of his bat. Derek went through the motions of being in pain, so much so that the Yankees trainer came out of the dugout to tend to his “injury.”

The home plate umpire awarded Jeter first base, although later replays clearly showed that Jeter was role-playing. After the game when Jeter was confronted by the media, he simply said that he was merely doing what the umpire told him to do.

The calls that came in were all over the lot, but most of them fell between gamemanship and sportsmanship. Gamemanship was defined as a deliberate act to gain an advantage over one’s opponent. Sportsmanship is an act that is aimed to the right thing. In this case, it was pretty clear that sportsmanship did not play into Derek’s thinking. As a professional, he explained that “It’s my job to get on first base.” And that’s how he rationalized his actions.

However, from the sports parents’ perspective, this kind of action causes Moms and Dads real concern. Does this mean that kids should ALWAYS display gamemanship ahead of sportsmanship? It’s a tough, tough call. Several callers mentioned that there may be a distinction between being a pro athlete and being an amateur one.

Overall, from my perspective, let me say this – as a sports parent, you should use the Jeter incident as the perfect way to talk to your son or daughter about sportsmanship and gamemanship. There may, in fact, not be a satisfactory answer to this knotty problem. But at least having the discussion and making your child aware of these issues is a positive development. 

PS – My thanks to Doug Abrams from the Univ of Missouri School of Law for finding that unusual case from a HS soccer game from North Carolina where, in a 1-1 game, it seemed that one team had scored the go-ahead goal late in the match. The seemingly victorious coach asked his players if they had, in fact, scored the goal, and they admitted that they hadn’t.

The coach then went to the officials, and the refs took away the goal. The game ended in a tie. The coach said, “I couldn’t justify winning an important soccer game on a goal that really didn’t go in.”

In other words, this was sportsmanship – not gamemanship. Tell your kids that story as well.

Concussions: Should sports parents now push kids away from contact sports?

Over the years that I’ve done my radio show, I can’t recall the kind of  outpouring of opinions that was generted by today’s question: that is, now that the medical profession has convinced us that concussions can lead to all sorts of horrible conditions (everything from dementia to suicide to ALS and on and on), I asked today’s listeners:

Has the time now come — for caring sports parents  — to funnel their young athletes into different sports than the traditional contact sports?

That is, rather than let our kids play football, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, and so on, maybe we should nudge our kids to try track and field, tennis, golf, swimming, gymnastics, bowling, archery, and so on.

The point is – the odds of our children suffering multiple concussions in these sports are much, much less than playing a sport in which a helmet is necessary.

What I thought was somewhat surprising is that a lot of callers felt this might be worth considering. After all, what sports parent wants their child to run the risk in later life of serious medical problems, all stemming from concussions from when the athlete was playing sports.

All that being said, this is a tough, tough question to pose. Doctors and trainers can tell us what to do once a kid gets a concussion — but that’s all reactive in scope. The real question is whether there’s something we can do to prevent concussions. We all love contact sports — but at what physical price?

Listening to What Kids have to say about sports…

I thought today’s interview with 17-year-old Quinn Cotter was absolutely fascinating. First, it was amazing to chat with a student-athlete who had the determination and patience to sit down and write about his experiences playing youth sports. Second, it was wonderful to hear what he had to say about how kids today view sports, coaches, and parents.

Think about it: this is a young man who was born in 1993, and as such, has grown up fully indoctrinated in our society’s crazed youth sports culture. He talked freely about parent coaches who had no issue about giving their own kid preferential treatment…about other coaches who, when disappointed with a player’s performance, would simply give that kid the “cold shoulder” in which the coach would just flat out ignore the player for weeks on end…about peers who were jealous of his making a travel team when they got caught. Quinn recalled vividly when, at age 10, he had to go up to his coach to find out why he wasn’t getting more playing time.

Quinn Cotter’s book, which I heartily recommend, is called PLAYING TIME, and it’s published by Apprentice House. For any sports Dad or Mom, it’s an important reminder of the kinds of daily issues that young athletes face on a daily basis. What’s particularly vexing is that so many of these issues are ones that didn’t exist a generation ago – they are fully the result of today’s current desire to push our children to their limits when it comes to competitive sports.

Who’s Going to Pay for Pre-Screening for Concussions? How about the NFL?

According to Michael Kaplen, the chair of the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council, what we really need is to screen every youngster who plays sports with a pre-season baseline screening of their brain activity.

Just as every kid who signs up for a sport has to get a medical clearance from one’s physician or pediatrician, the screening test (known as an imPACT test and is done quickly and painlessly on a computer) should now be mandatory.

After all, concussions happen routinely in sports, and what we need is someway to check whether the kid is okay to go back and play again. Having them take that imPACT test is a real good idea; in fact, the NFL, NHL, MLB and other top sports programs already have it in place.

The question for the rest of us is, quite simply, who pays for the tests? Most schools and local communities simply can’t afford it. Kaplen suggests that the cost should be picked up by either our insurance carriers, or maybe even the NFL or other pro organizations.

To me, that makes a lot of sense. Insurance companies might be tempted to see the value in doing this. And with the billions of revenue that the NFL generates each year, helping to pay for screening tests seems like a real good idea.

Also, Michael Kaplen offered some excellent websites for more information on concussions. They include: www.cdc.gov/concussion. Also, check out www.braininjury.blogs.com, and then www.bianys.org.