Part 2: Concussions in Football – High School, College Coaches React
“The bottom line is the concern is warranted. The brain is critical, and it takes time to recover. There’s no do-overs when you mess up your brain,” says Executive Director of the National Institute for Athletic Health and Performance Dr. Michael Bergeron.
When monitoring player safety and health at any level, coaches are one of the most important people on the sidelines. Coaches have to be sensitive and aware that at any moment a player could become injured, and they need to take the necessary steps to protect their teams.
At the high school and collegiate level in Sioux Falls, coaches do understand the protocol among concussions, and how they can impact a player’s health short and long-term.
At USF, head coach Jed Stugart and the university’s training staff have players go through testing at the beginning of the year, and in season, monitor concussions very cautiously.
“At start of year, players get a baseline test, and impact test. If they cannot pass the test, they do some jogging, and have to take tests again to make sure once they run around, their symptoms don’t come back. Usually there’s always a mandatory seven-day period.”
USF has cut down on the amount of live activity in practice to avoid circumstances that may lead to head-to-head contact as well.
At the time of the interview in early November, Augustana had about 16 concussions during the fall season, and head coach Jerry Olszewski says teaching the correct tackling techniques can be difficult because concussions aren’t always caused by blows to the head.
“Concussions can be caused by whiplash, with the helmet on the ground, and by taking a helmet to the knee.”
Back at USF, head athletic trainer and strength/conditioning coach Zach Mathers thinks that football players are beginning to understand the effects of big hits.
“By the time you get to the college level, you’ve gotten through teach tackling techniques. There’s was a period of time, everyone was focused on getting the big hit, but that group of athletes is kind of working their way out where they’re are seeing the results of teaching tackling in younger grades. I think our guys tackle very safely with their head up. Our defense does tackling circuits during fall camp every day, and once season starts, once a week, or once every two weeks where we are looking at how we tackle, teaching to get hips down, and heads up.”
USF also spends ten minutes every day out of an hour and half practice working on tackling correctly.
To avoid the big hits, and the head-to-head contact, the NCAA created a new targeting rule that has been initiated on the gridiron by college football in 2013. Targeting states that “no player shall target and initiate contact vs. opponent with the crown of his helmet or no player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.”
All targeting penalties are worthy of a 15-yard penalty and ejection.
At the high school level, coaches haven’t had the benefit of the NCAA’s new targeting rule, but the awareness for concussions on and off the field is just as greater. To help raise the awareness, Sanford Hospital and the Minnesota Vikings partnered to promote a new concussion technology application from X-2 Biosystems that provides a cloud based data storage of an athlete’s prior examinations that allows real-time comparisons when a player has a suspected concussion.
All 32 NFL teams use the X-2 Ice application. Sanford Hospital and the Vikings held a contest for South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota high schools to fill out a concussion awareness survey. Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls was awarded with a trip from Vikings players Toby Gerhart and Josh Robinson along with tickets to a game.
Finding ways like Sanford Hospital and the Vikings have done to engage high school players from the three states to raise awareness for concussions is just one of many steps into the right direction adds National Institute for Athletic Health and Performance Dr. Thayne Munce…
On the gridiron at the hight school level, most teams have their players take baseline tests at the beginning of each season and at Roosevelt, head coach Kim Nelson shares that the Riders have even taken some extra precautions to help avoid some of those concussions.
“We have our players strengthen their neck in the weight room, we don’t hit live in practice, and we’ve been lucky to not have a serious concussion.”
Most Sioux Falls schools and local area hospitals have training staff at games from Sanford Hospital, and when coaches and trainers see symptoms of concussions, they are very alert and conscientious of each situation.
“When a kid shows signs of headaches, they are done for the game. Kids take tests, and re-take the tests when the symptoms are gone,” says Brandon Valley head coach Chad Garrow.
At O’Gorman, the Knights have trainers from the Orthopedic Institute, refer to trainers , and players take baseline tests until they are approved to play again.
When it comes to the future of the game, players are getting faster and stronger, as well as the equipment and technology. Most of the coaches agree that the game will continue to improve as the players do.
“The equipment is getting better, the players are getting faster and stronger. There’s more concussions because they are better diagnosed, and the speed of the game makes a difference,” adds Garrow.
At the same time, there is only so much for the game to improve, too
“I hope the concussion issue comes to rest because I worry it might go away. The game offers too many positives. It teaches teamwork, preparation, practice, and it offers a reflection on how to live life. We have to try to find ways to make game better. Football is the ultimate team sport,” reflects Nelson.
Stugart says that the nature of football is a violent game.
“Fans want to see wrecks in NASCAR, fans want to see big hits in football, but just don’t want to see players get hurt. There’s a lot of extreme measures of taking certain things out, i.e. kickoffs, kickoff returns. I don’t think it matters if its a violent sport because as people are getting hurt.”