It is all about the glory — or is it?
For every child who loves watching and wants to play a contact sport, the downside — life-altering brain damage is never considered. It is the dirty secret hidden by school pride, winning teams, and scholarships. The kiddie teams, junior and senior high school teams are the farm teams for colleges, which then become the farm teams for the Pros. Nobody wants to talk about the problems. It is all about the glory.
What’s a parent to do?
Parents must ask the hard questions. Sure, we’ve all heard that before. Ask this. Ask that. Ask if your child will be safe. In all cases, coaches will confirm every child in their program will be safe. They’ll say they have the best equipment, best coaching staff, best side-line support, and they are up-to-date on all procedures that may be needed should a player be injured. That’s when your child turns to you with pleading eyes and says, “See. I’ll be okay. Let me play. Pleeeeeease.”
Informed Consent – Questions that need answers.
Here’s a list of questions the parents of deceased players wish they had asked. You see, they had no idea Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE, was a thing. Repetitive head hits were part of the game. They didn’t know it caused CTE and would destroy the brains of the child. Therefore, in hindsight, these are the questions they wished they had asked the coaches.
• I see a lot of science about possible harm to players’ brains, is there any science that says playing football is safe?
• In your [the coach] experience, what are the signs of CTE and Concussion that you and I should look for?
• Can you, the coach, guarantee that my child will not get CTE and will you put it in writing?
• Will the school/organization ensure my child against brain disease through an insurance policy?
• I have heard that no helmet can protect the brain against injury. As the coach, what is your position on this?
• What is your coaching background and experience in training athletes? Are you certified?
• What kind of medical support is available? Do you have expertise in neurological conditions caused by play – injuries and symptoms? Is there a doctor with specific neurological training at games and practice?
• What kind of network do you and the school provide for injured players? Does the school have a policy that tracks players in the classroom so that any changes in behavior can be identified and address to make sure it isn’t a warning sign for brain injury?
• What is your concussion protocol? Who determines when a player is okay to return to the game?
• Some signs of brain injury do not manifest during the game but in the days and weeks following. What is your protocol in reviewing a player’s fitness for each practice and each game?
• Does the program and the school offer mindfulness training for all players so that they are not stressed all the time — so that their “game brain” is only present for games and their “calm-brain” is present for the rest of the time?
• How much of this program is revenue driven and does it affect the pressure to win?
• How important is a successful team to the school’s identity? Do the players carry the reputation of the school on their shoulders?
Alternatives – Safe Games Save Brains
There are a myriad of games and challenges that offer the same experience as contact sports without putting a child’s brain at risk. The brain does not regenerate. When damaged, It can reassign functions to other parts of the brain but it never returns to “normal.” Why take the chance? Here are some suggestions:
• Hand-eye coordination: golf, ping pong, handball, tennis, bowling, baseball, volleyball, curling
• Speed: Track, cycling, swimming, running, ice skating
• Movement: dance, yoga, karate, gymnastics, aerobics, weights, track and field
• Strategic thinking: chess and board games, bridge and card games, functional design, entrepreneurialism (business and marketing)
• Creativity: the arts, sciences, communications
• Relationship skills: tutoring, volunteering, mentoring
• Scholarships to higher education: outstanding ability in the above as well as attention to schoolwork, support free access to community and state schools.
Parents have a tough role
Today, with all we know about CTE and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury – i.e. concussions), it feels like we are put in a no-win position. Our children are brought up watching and playing contact sports on an informal basis in the backyard or the park. Now, when they feel old enough, they want the “real” deal. Except, we are learning that reality is not safe. How do you deal with an excited child pleading to play his or her favorite sport and promises not to get hurt? How do you explain that no matter what they say, they will sacrifice part of their brain to their passion? How do you say no?
Just say, “NO.”
Our children, smart as they are, have no perspective. Their focus is on NOW! As parents, we have access to a larger picture. We know it is tough going out there when it is time to make choices regarding relationships, careers, family, and general emotional and physical health. To be at their best, our children must have brains that function optimally. In their formative years, this means no brain-damaging contact sports.
Life is uncertain. We must do our best.
Yes. All true. We can’t guard against accidents, repercussions from incidents, and acts of God. There are an infinite number of ways that things can go wrong or right. Things which are way beyond our control. However, we are able to influence some things, protect our children in some ways, and direct them down a path that will best serve them throughout their lifetime.
One gift to our children is the toolset we give them to navigate the challenges they face as they mature into adulthood and successful people. I define success here as capable, emotionally intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate. This toolset also gives children the ability to form positive and healthy relationships that will sustain them. This toolset requires the user has a healthy brain.
The second gift to our children are the words “No,” when we have the opportunity to protect them against hidden harm, and “Yes,” when we observe them making positive strides toward creativity and independence.
Healthy brains maximize opportunities, relationships, and well-lived lives.
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