Youth sports leagues could be the latest group required to educate parents, players and coaches about head injuries and concussions.

Legislators in Florida’s House and Senate could vote this week on bills mandating new training for coaches and increased consent from the parents of young athletes, said sponsor Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach.

The law would apply rules that were implemented last year for the state’s high school sports programs to other youth sports clubs, such as the Florida Youth Soccer Association and Pop Warner football leagues.

“I think in these club sports, it’s more aggressive and there’s probability of injury,” said Cheryl Goldstein, a Miami mother whose son, David, suffered several concussions over the years while playing high school and club soccer. The teen, now 17, and his parents are lobbying legislators for the law.

Renuart knows some parents, coaches and athletes are skeptical about the rule, which is designed to give a child’s developing brain time to heal properly. But the pressure to get back in a game is secondary to a child’s health, he said.

“We want to … protect Johnny from his own parents or coach,” he said. “Sometimes we have to protect them from themselves.”

Sports-related concussions have been a growing issue for several years. Sports teams, from the peewee level to the National Football League, have been reacting to growing evidence that untreated concussions can cause lasting consequences. If passed, Florida will join 34 other states that have youth concussion policies.

Diana Brett of Davie says the bill can save lives. Her son, Daniel, was a high school freshman football player when he experienced a series of concussions during practice. He didn’t tell his coaches or parents about the injuries for weeks.

For 20 months, Brett said the family tried to treat Daniel’s dizziness, mood swings and migraines, but were unfamiliar with the sensitive nature of treating head injuries. The cumulative damage, and the loss of his dream to play college football, resulted in Daniel’s decision to commit suicide almost a year ago, Brett said. He was 16.

“We don’t want another family to go through the absolute hell we went through,” she said.

The Florida High School Athletic Association policy created a protocol for athletes suspected of having concussion-like symptoms. They are removed from play or practice, and not allowed to return without a doctor’s assessment and approval, which could be days or weeks later. Coaches also are required to watch a 20-minute concussion awareness video.

It’s not clear how similar the requirements are for the dozens of independent youth sports clubs across Florida. One of the largest, the Florida Youth Soccer Association, boasts a membership of more than 100,000 in its recreational and competitive clubs for boys and girls.

The soccer association does include general concussion education resources on its website, but it’s not clear if training is mandatory for coaches. A checklist for assessing concussions also is posted on the website, and includes a recommendation that athletes stay away from play for 24 hours after an injury. Officials did not respond to repeated calls for clarification about the rules.

An estimated 40,000 public and private high school coaches in Florida this school year have seen the training video, said Gary Pigott, Florida High School Athletic Association senior director of athletics. It helps them identify concussion symptoms, and reaffirms the importance of pulling the athlete out of the competition.

“There’s definitely more caution any time a concussion or suspected concussion is sustained,” Pigott said. “Two years ago if somebody hit their head, it was check them out and send them back in.”

Hillsborough County high schools implemented many of these concussion policies before the FHSAA, said Lanness Robinson, the district athletics director. Parent consent forms mention the risks associated to head injuries, and coaches viewed similar concussion education videos.

The local and high school association policies are working in part because they don’t place a financial burden on schools, Robinson said. If youth leagues have the proper infrastructure, implementing these rules can be uneventful, he said.

Renuart and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, unsuccessfully introduced the bills in 2011. The sticking point involved the practitioners authorized to clear a student athlete to play again. The FHSAA rule and the 2011 bill had designated that role for medical doctors or doctors of osteopathic medicine only.

Renuart, who is an osteopathic physician, said trainers and others may be qualified to identify a concussion. The return-to-play decision, however, needs to be left to people more familiar with a youth’s treatment and recovery.

“They know who is best qualified to make that decision,” he said, adding that last year’s opposition from the chiropractic industry has been dropped.


By MARY SHEDDEN | The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 19, 2012


Source : The Tampa Tribune