In the past decade, there has been a rising awareness of the concussion, especially in contact sports. The feared “C Word” can be one of the tricker injuries to understand, for there are blurred lines as to what constitutes a concussion. Many athletes are afraid to admit they may have a concussion as they do not want to miss a week or two’s worth of games. It’s an easy injury to hide, for there is no visible signs of injury, such as a cast or crutches.
However, more awareness needs to be raised about the head trauma injury.
This year, the football team implemented “Hawk tackling”, a technique created by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll that aims to create an efficient tackle safer for both parties. Two or three practices a week would hold a twenty minute period of practice for this skill. Implementing it would be beneficial in the pre-season to have tackling-specific sessions in order to perfect the technique, assuring total safety and efficiency in the regular season.
Another issue with concussion protocol has been the ImPACT test, a neurocognitive assessment which measures reaction time and memory, among other things. After an athlete experiences a hit to the head, he takes the test again, and scores are compared with those of his “healthy” baseline test. If the difference is drastic, the athlete has a diagnosed concussion.
While the test , there are a couple glaring issues that need to be fixed. First is the issue of how often the test needs to be taken to achieve accurate results. While Belmont Hill requires all incoming students to take the test, the test usually occurs only once or twice, which can prove to be a poor decision. Many studies, such one conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, show that there is a massive burst of brain growth in the teenage years, especially around ages 12-14. In fact, according to NIMH, “the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.”
After experiencing headaches after a football hit early in my eighth grade year, I retook the ImPACT test. I compared it with one taken just a year prior, and was surprised to see that, while the results of several categories experienced a minor decline, many scores experienced a jump in performance. I was surprised. Did the hit make me smarter? Clearly not, but it showed that the test did not account for brain development in the year before. An athlete’s results from a seventh grade test is not equivalent to one’s from his senior year, let alone his eighth grade year. Considering this, it would be wise to all Middle School athletes to take the ImPACT test prior to every season, and for Upper Schoolers to take it every fall. Considering the test takes approximately an hour, it can easily be done during Mud Week.
Lastly, athletes should not “shrug off” a concussion, or simply think skipping the next shift will heal it. The mindset that one does not have a concussion until it is diagnosed is extremely harmful. After all, it only takes a couple major hits until one might have to quit their contact sport.
I’ve even heard cases in which student-athletes actively attempt to score low so concussions will be harder to detect.
While some athletes are advised to “toughen out” a concussion, especially at a highly academically rigorous school, Belmont Hill students cannot afford to be sidelined by careless treatment and awareness of a knock to the head.