Reducing concussions starts with practice

Playing sports is the fifth-most-common cause for concussions in the general population. However, for young people ages 15-24, sports are the second-highest cause for concussions, only trailing auto accidents.

Over the last 11 years, the number of concussions in high school sports has increased by an average of 15.5 percent each year, according to theMedStar Health Research Institute study published in 2011. In a study done by the Centers for Disease Control in 2011, concussions accounted for nearly 15 percent of all sports-related injuries in high schools.

Since 1997, at least 50 football players, in high school or younger, have died or have suffered a traumatic brain injury with permanent damage, according to research done by the New York Times.

There is no denying; concussions have proven to be a serious problem in schools today. Something needs to change in the area of head protection in high schools.

If the rate of the number of concussions increases at the same pace, the number of concussions will double in the next five years, and triple after eight years. That means that each high school athlete will be two or three times more likely to suffer permanent brain damage.


A personal example

Take me, for example. I played football in high school for a year and a half. In that time, I received three concussions and was forced to put away the pads. I played basketball for two full seasons in high school. However, two concussions, including a very serious one, cut my junior and senior seasons to a combined four games.

Because of my concussions, I cannot compete in any sport with contact for the rest of my life. In addition, I still get headaches on a regular basis, along with being sensitive to light and sound. Concussions have completely altered my life course, and if nothing is done about concussions in high school, there are going to be a lot more people winding up like me, restricted and symptom ridden.

Concussions have the ability to cause serious lifelong side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, concussions have been linked to epilepsy, amnesia, and early Alzheimer's. In fact, those who receive a single concussion double their chances of contracting epilepsy within the first five years after receiving the concussion.

With the number of concussions growing, more people need to be more aware of the subsequent long-term consequences that come from concussions at an early age.

Change practices

Out of my five concussions, only one has occurred in an actual game. The way to fix the problem of concussions in high school sports is simple; don't let the athletes beat up on each other in practice.

In football, players will not be allowed to hit anything during practice. Instead of injuring themselves or their teammates, the football players will work on technique, speed, and strength. By the time Friday night rolls around, they will be filled with so much energy, their overall performance will improve.


This idea comes from John Gagliardi, the former coach of the St. John's University football team who was at the helm for 64 years in Collegeville, Minn. During his career, he amassed the most wins in NCAA history (489) while never having a single practice where his team was allowed to hit each other.

In soccer, the sport with the second-highest concussion rate, no heading or tackling will be allowed outside of games. Instead, teams will focus on footwork, agility, speed, and conditioning. In hockey and basketball, the same rules will go into effect. No hitting or physical play will be tolerated in practices. Teams will shift their attention to conditioning, teamwork, and coordination.

Not only should this plan drastically cut down the number of concussions in high school sports, the overall number of injuries should follow suit with the less-physical play day-in and day-out.

Other options

There are other potential options for solving this concussion crisis. There are many people who think that the football helmet can protect the head from any injury. In many ways, the modern football helmet has improved in design and performance, but does it really protect the head from concussions better than the old leather helmets? According to Dr. Adam Bartsch and his team from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who tested both modern and leather helmets for impact resistance, the modern helmets performed just as poorly as the leather helmets overall. This shows that today's helmets are just as unsafe as they were in the early 20th century.

​The other option that people like to assume is the best protection for the heads of athletes is waiting until the head heals before returning to action. This is actually a very smart thing to do. In fact, doctors require that someone is symptom-free for three to four days before they can compete at full speed again.

The problem with this option is it is really not protecting the head from receiving any more concussions. It may reduce the risk of getting a more serious one, but the chance of receiving another concussion goes up after you have had one. In fact, according to the CDC, someone is three to six times more likely to receive a subsequent concussion after sustaining the initial head injury.

What these numbers are saying is that this plan doesn't have the capability of slowing down this growing problem, it only takes athletes out of action long enough for the head to heal properly, only to be sent out and be at a higher risk for injury.


​All in all, the solution that will be the most feasible and effective in solving the concussion problem in high school athletics involves no contact in practice. That is the time when you prepare for your next opponent, sharpen your skills, and fix any flaws, not beat on each other. Being smart with the student-athletes and keeping them healthy until game day can prevent many concussions.

So, talk to your athletic director. Write a letter to a member of your legislature. Meet with your coach. Whatever it takes, strive for a better athletic environment for your athletes.

Concussions in high school sports can easily be reduced. The time to act is now.

Aaron Simmons is a 2013 graduate of Stewartville High School, where he was a three-sport athlete.

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