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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 11/ 8/2010

Willingham: What student athletes should know

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

By Daniel Willingham
If you’re the parent of a student athlete, read on.

Concussions in high school athletics have been in the news, with coverage in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. The House Education and Labor Committee held hearings on the subject last May.

Between 1997 and 2007, emergency room visits for concussions associated with organized athletics doubled for kids 8 to 13, and tripled for kids aged 14 to 19.

In 2008-2009, high school athletes suffered something like 400,000 concussions.

Researchers are guessing that the rapid increase is primarily due to better reporting than to an actual increase in injuries. Still, it highlights the prevalence of the problem.

Concussion can lead to a broad array of cognitive consequences (e.g., problems with memory and concentration), emotional consequences (depression, anxiety) and other symptoms (e.g., headache, dizziness), which usually resolve within a month, but on occasion are long-lasting.

The long-term consequences of repeated concussion remain unknown.

Last week the American Academy of Neurology released a position statement on sports concussion. Neurologists are the doctors who diagnose and treat concussion, so their view on the matter is obviously of some importance.

They make five recommendations, paraphrased here:

1) An athlete suspected of having a concussion should not play until he or she has been seen by a physician who is knowledgeable about sports concussions.

2) An athlete should not participate if he or she is still experiencing symptoms from a concussion.

3) An athlete who has had a concussion should be cleared to play only by a physician with training in sports concussions.

4) A certified athletic trainer should present at all sporting events, including practices, where athletes are at risk for concussion.

5) Athletes, parents, and coaches need to be better educated in the understanding of concussion.

A spokesperson for the neurologist’s group says he understands that these five recommendations are aiming high. For example, only 40% of schools have a certified athletic trainer.

But if I were the parent of a student athlete at risk for concussion, I’d ask my child’s coach or the athletic director at the school what is being about the issue.

A good starting place to educate oneself is this guide from the Centers for Disease Control.


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 8, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Sports  
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I think the recommendations are a great idea, but will the students be honest in how well they are feeling? If there is a student whose life is their sport, they are going to lie and say they are fine, just so they can play the game. If the statistics for sports related injuries are this high (and growing), it should be a requirement that all schools employ a certified athletic trainer. This athletic trainer should then be the one that decides if the student is ready to play.

Posted by: doermana1 | November 8, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I agree that the increase is due to better reporting of the issues. A parent/coach/ child care provider can never be too careful when dealing with a possible concussion. It is so important to be safe rather than possibly be sorry later!

Posted by: cmoore1028 | November 8, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion, these recommendations are great. To many students, sports are their reason for going to school in the first place. Some even see it as their gate way to college. If a devoted athlete gets injured with a concussion,etc. that may possibly prevent them from participating, of course they will lie about how they are feeling. I believe a certified trainer would be of great value to athletic departments during both practices and games.

Posted by: langa3 | November 8, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Though the recommendations for the treatment of concussions and prevention of worse injury seem great on paper, I think it is hard to tell how a student is actually feeling. A student who's future hangs on their ability to play a sport is not going to tell their coach "I think I might have a concussion, so I'm going to sit out practice and games until I get to see a doctor." This is too risky for them. They want to be able to play, because it's what they know and what they do best. My hope would be that students and parents alike take these recommendations seriously and put the students health first. These can definitely be great ways to keep them safe.

Posted by: knegard | November 9, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

I agree that most student athletes will lie about how they are feeling to prevent sitting out a game or even practice. However, that is why it is so important that all schools have an athletic trainer that is trained to deal with concussions. They should know when the player is lying or trying to just "shake it off." There are ways to detect a concussion even if the player says they are okay. Athletic trainers need to be sure they go through a thorough concussion exam before sending the player back onto the field.
This is something that needs to be taken very seriously. These 5 recommendations should be requirements of every school.

Posted by: heraldd5 | November 9, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

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