Concussions in Kids

Many of you have heard a lot of talk in the news lately about concussions and head injuries from kids playing sports. I’m personally invested in this issue because my wife Lisa and I lost our younger son, Matthew, after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during a high school football game in 2008. I’m professionally motivated by the issue as the executive director of the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma.

As your kids go back to school and sports this month, we wanted to give you facts about concussions to help kids continue to play it safe:

  • Young children and teens are more likely to get a concussion and can take longer to recover than adults
  • Recognizing and responding properly to concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death
  • Athletes who have had a concussion, at any point in their lives, have a greater chance of getting another concussion
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or concussions are a contributing factor to 31 percent of all injury-related deaths in the U.S.

Although the NCAA and NFL have pledged millions of dollars to study college and youth sports safety, up until now the effects of sports on kids have been vastly understudied. Did you know that 70 percent of the U.S. football-playing population is younger than 14? The Childress Institute is in its third year of funding a long-running study of 9- to 12-year-olds to track the cumulative impact on the brain of head contact across multiple seasons. The good news is, people are paying attention and we can start to make a difference as we learn more.

  • Symptoms may appear mild, but the injury can lead to significant life-long impairment
  • Each year, U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 175,000 sports-related TBIs for boys and girls
  • During the last decade, emergency department visits for sports-related TBIs, among children and adolescents increased by 60 percent
  • 62 percent of sports-related injuries occur during practice not games

Based on the research we do have, we can help prevent and reduce injuries:

  • Limit contact during sports practices (when appropriate for the sport)
  • Change rules and/or ban or limit the use of certain drills or techniques to help reduce the chances of injury
  • Check sports equipment often to make sure the equipment fits the athletes well, is in good condition, stored properly, and is repaired and replaced based on instructions from the equipment companies

Action can help improve outcomes for kids:

  • Educate coaches, parents, athletic trainers and athletes – inform and educate coaches, athletes, and their parents and guardians about concussion through training and/or a concussion information sheet
  • Remove athlete from play – an athlete who is believed to have a concussion should be removed from play right away – “When in doubt, sit it out”
  • Obtain permission to return to play – an athlete can only return to play or practice after at least 24 hours AND with permission from a health care professional trained in concussion care

My best advice as a parent of children who played multiple sports is not to be afraid to go to practice and ask questions. You are your child’s best advocate, so the more you know the better off everyone is.

To learn more about recognizing concussions in your young athlete, visit the CDC’s concussion website. You can learn more about my family’s personal story with sports-related traumatic brain injuries by visiting We hope you will all help kids play it safe this fall.

– Bob Gfeller, Executive Director of the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma

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