Hockey coaches must know signs of concussions

The topic of sports concussion has recently become very popular in the media. While most attention has been directed toward football, some of the most severe concussions are associated with ice hockey.

Concussion is one element in the spectrum of neurological injuries classified as traumatic brain injury. It consists of an alteration of neurological function as a result of the brain being impacted by an outside force. Young developing brains are more susceptible to permanent damage.

As athletes have grown in size, strength and speed, “violent collision sports” have become more aggressive.

Concussions in ice hockey are particularly severe because they often involve high-velocity impact. A typical scenario occurs when a player is skating on the open ice and is unexpectedly struck by another player moving at full speed. Recent studies also show that the element of surprise plays a role in the degree of injury.

In recognizing the gravity of the current situation, the NHL has passed Rule 48 forbidding “lateral or blindside hits to the head.” Connecticut has passed a new law requiring all scholastic sports coaches to complete a course on the recognition and treatment of concussion.

Unfortunately, none of the current regulations extend to youth sports where the youngest and most vulnerable athletes play. USA Hockey, the principal governing body for youth hockey, has no requirement for coaches to obtain any instruction about concussion.

Once again, the responsibility for safety in youth sports falls on the shoulders of parents. Both parents and athletes should become well-versed in the signs and symptoms of concussion. Although not required, parents should insist that their child’s coaches attend a course on concussion.

Participation in youth hockey is an expensive investment of time, effort and money. Before investing further, parents must be sure their children are safe.

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