NORWALK, Conn. Norwalk's Katherine Snedaker, a social worker and longtime parent coach, is working to close a loophole in Connecticut's 2009 concussion law that leaves a majority of children without protection.
With her educational website SportsCAPP.com, she is pushing to not only close this loophole but also to offer parents and sports leagues information on how to address the dangers.
Snedaker was inspired to act when she learned that many concussions could be avoided and a large number reduced in severity if parents and coaches were trained to spot the warning signs before more damage is done.
"The law does not protect the middle school student outside of their school team, or any elementary school kids on the playground or in their early sports lives,'' Snedaker said. "And there is no plan to modify the state law to include these kids because it is hard to enforce the law if most of these coaches do not hold professional coaching licenses."
During the last decade, emergency room visits for sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, increased 60 percent among children and adolescents, according to a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection.
Parents are becoming more aware of concussions through media coverage but still know little about why more concussions are occurring and which activities are the most risky for kids, Snedaker said.
New research has updated the medical definition of a concussion, and young athletes are now bigger and faster, adding to the increase in cases. "With earlier competitive play, 12 months sports seasons, multisport seasons and better training, today's kids hit harder than previous generations,'' Snedaker said.
Connecticut lawmakers responded to the growing numbers of youth concussions and passed a law two years ago to prevent and reduce head injuries for student athletes. The law requires coaches to take a three-hour training course with a refresher course every five years, and to hold out athletes who exhibit possible symptoms of a concussion until a doctor examines and clears the athlete to return to play.
The law is working well in high schools where coaches and trainers are educated and caring for their students, Snedaker says. But coaches who are not required to follow the law include:
Any youth coach outside a school team including recreaction football, lacrosse, hockey;
Recreation and town sports coaches;
Private schools coaches;
Sport camp coaches; and
Sports centers and field houses coaches.
According to the CDC report, the activities associated with the greatest estimated number of reported concussions to the emergency rooms from 2001-09, were (in order) bicycling, football, playground activities, basketball and soccer.
The center also reported these findings:
Children up to age 9 commonly sustained injuries during playground activities or while bicycling.
For boys ages 10 to 19, sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries occurred most often while playing football or bicycling.
Girls ages 10 to 19 sustained sports- and recreation-related TBIs most often while playing soccer or basketball or while bicycling.
Just looking at sports concussions, numbers and rates are highest in football (55,007; 0.47 per 1,000 athlete exposures) and girls soccer (29,167; 0.36 per 1,000 athlete exposures).
It is important to remove an injured child from play, Snedaker said. "We can reduce concussions," she said with coach, player and parent education and awareness of concussions.
Her website spells out safe practices for sports teams and includes information on concussion awareness and prevention. One tool on the website is a new Concussion Recognition and Response app that a coach or parent can use if an athlete suffers a blow, bump or other injury during a game or practice. The app guides the coach through a series of questions and makes a recommendation about whether to remove the athlete from play and get medical attention. The app is available for Apple and Android mobile devices and costs $3.99.
The goal is not for coaches to diagnose a concussion which she said only a trained doctor can do. But studies have shown it is essential for coaches and parents to know when a player should be benched. Athletes who are pulled from play immediately after a brain injury tend to recover faster and avoid a second injury, which can make the concussion recover period longer. In rare cases a second blow can also cause death, a condition called Second Impact Syndrome.
"Concussion symptoms can show up hours or even days after a blow to the head or just the body with a whiplash effect to the head," Snedaker said. The damage can be devastating if a child suffers a second concussion before healing properly from the initial blow. She quotes the CDC concussion motto, "when in doubt, sit it out. Better to miss a game than the whole season."
Snedaker has offered to train a number of local soccer teams, but generally finds them resistant to sign up or even to talk about concussions. "Football, lacrosse and hockey teams have jumped on board," she says. "But for some reason, the soccer teams still seem to be resisting the call to action."
After coaching boys for the last eight years in the Norwalk Lacrosse Association, Snedaker is well versed on concussions. Her son suffered a number of concussions in the last four years, missing months of school and turning her family's life upside down. "Concussions,'' she said, "can change a family's normal routine when a child cannot attend school or is attending school just part time."
Snedaker is determined to get information to leagues on how they can train coaches and parents at minimal or no cost. "I'm trying to be the bridge between all the free information and training that is on web, and the tired, overworked parents and volunteer coaches who already have too many things to do to run their teams."
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