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Head-First Legislation for Youth Sports

6 Jan, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic
Rising Rates of Youth Athlete-Related Concussions Prompt State Rulings

As the rates for organized sports among young people rise, so too do sports injuries. Concussions, which are among the most serious of athletic injuries in kids – they can negatively affect cognition and development in children and cause a lifetime of health problems – are of particular concern. According to the CDC, the number of reported concussions has doubled in the last 10 years, particularly among young people. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has found that emergency room visits for concussions in children ages 8 to 13 has also doubled, while concussions among teens have quadrupled in the last 10 years.

When it comes to concussions, however, not all sports are created equal. High school football accounts for the lion’s share of concussions: 47 percent of all reported concussions, with one-third of those occurring during practice. Other sports with high concussion rates include ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, wrestling and cheerleading. Evidence has shown that high school and middle school athletes may be at more serious risk of concussions than professional athletes, who are surrounded by coaches, trainers and managers with professional injury prevention and treatment skills.

Prevention is critical, particularly among youth athletes whose brains are still developing: while the first concussion for a young person is serious enough, subsequent concussions raise the risk alarmingly – as much as 39 percent per incident -- for future neurological problems. If a head injury occurs, it’s critical for coaches and parents to recognize the symptoms so medical attention can be sought as quickly as possible. Old conventional wisdom dictated that if there is no loss of consciousness, there is no concussion. Statistics show, however, that in 90 percent of concussions, the subject does not lose consciousness after the injury.

To better protect young athletes, most states have begun enacting legislation regarding concussion care. In 2014, four additional states (Georgia, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin) passed legislation, bringing the total of states with such laws on the books to 49. Mississippi remains the lone hold-out. Many of these state laws require coaches and physical education teachers to undergo sports concussion education, and to hold young athletes from play and practice until they have undergone medical evaluation. Other states also mandate that parents and student athletes receive concussion education, and require education materials to be read and signed off on before youth sports participation. (Children’s Safety Network has prepared an interactive map of sports concussion legislation by state.)

To bring all state concussion legislation in line with current standards, Congress has proposed several bills over the last few years to codify these lawmaking efforts. According to the Web site Think Progress, Senator Dick Durbin (IL-D) proposed legislation in 2013 that would have mandated strict concussion education and management plans, and Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) introduced a bill that would have required all college athletes undergo baseline testing to better identify, manage, and treat concussions. Neither bill gained serious traction. 

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