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Expansion of concussion management in youth sports coming in First State

Delaware Public Media

Delaware adopted concussion protocols and training for scholastic sports back in 2011, but the law didn’t cover youth sports sponsored by independent clubs and leagues.

And now, the state is moving to address that gap in efforts to improve recognition of concussion symptoms and treatment of those injuries.

Once enacted, the Concussion Protection Youth Athletic Activities Act will help protect kids under 18 in organized sports not under the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association. 

"One of the worst things is if you have a concussion and then you actually get another concussion before you heal from the first one," said state representative Debra Heffernan (D-Bellefonte, Brandywine Hundred, Edgemoor), the bill's sponsor.

Just like high school athletes, athletes in youth leagues and clubs will automatically be removed from a game or practice by their coach or umpire if they appear to have suffered a concussion

“And they’re not allowed to go back in the game until they’ve been checked out by a medical professional,” Heffernan said.

The bill addresses concussion education. Heffernan said it mandates coaches be trained to recognize what types of hits can trigger a concussion and the signs that a player has suffered one. 

And it’s critical to get players who may have a concussion off the field and properly diagnosed, said University of Delaware’s head soccer coach Ian Hennessy.

“Once you suspect at all that there’s a concussion and the player obviously is removed immediately from play, our medical staff will do some standardized tests that they go through,” Hennessy said. “And then depending on the response of the player, they’ll shut the player down…” 

Football and soccer have received much of the attention regarding concussions, but UD Director of Athletic Training Education Tom Kaminski said they can happen to any athlete.

“As of late, there’s been a little bit more attention paid to soccer because it’s an interesting sport because you can actually use your head strategically as part of the game to advance the ball, to shoot the ball, to clear the ball,” Kaminski said.  

Kaminski has been studying concussions in college soccer to determine if there is a threshold for how often a player can head the ball before becoming more at risk for a head injury. In tracking headers in men and women at UD for 14 years, what he has determined so far is that men, on average, have more headers per game than women, at least at UD.

“Concussion management has advanced tremendously over the past few years, so while rest initially in the treatment is recommended, most graduated return-to-play protocols call for some moderate intensity exercise to be part of the process,” Kaminski said.

The new youth sports concussion bill is expected to be signed next month and go into effect a year later.

The specific rules and regulations youth leagues and clubs will follow are still being written. Once the bill signed, the new law won’t go into effect for a year. 

"I think that we're going to be able to see a more across the board implementation to protect kids from concussions and especially even in sports you wouldn't normally think, like gymnastics, cheerleading," Heffernan said. "There's really a risk in any sport that you can fall on your head and have a hard hit."