Coaches get a “Heads Up” in Football

LUMBERTON — The game of football has come under tremendous scrutiny in recent years as a number of professional football players reported long-term injuries and brain trauma.

In the past four years, the Public Schools of Robeson County added certified athletic trainers to diagnose student injury and support players. This May, coaches across the school district took safety to the next level by participating in USA Football’s “Heads Up Football Program.” Fifty coaches from county high schools recently spent a full day studying and practicing in the program. It trained them in important health and safety issues along with the game’s fundamentals. The coaches also participated in four online courses as an additional component of the program.

Assistant Coach Thomas Umphrey participated in the training program and is already teaching the new techniques in spring workouts to players at Purnell Swett High School. Umphrey has worked in the school district for 30 years.

“Football has changed so much over the years since I started coaching,” Umphrey said. “Back in the early 80s and late 70s, a lot of the tackling techniques put the players facemask on the numbers of the front of the jersey. Now, players should move their facemask and helmet to the side when tackling a player. This should reduce injury or impact or force to the head.”

Umphrey said the training covered the various aspects of concussion awareness, fundamentals and fitting of helmets and equipment, heat stroke and also the proper techniques of tackling and blocking.

“They are teaching us how to recognize concussion symptoms and to make sure the equipment is properly fitted to reduce injuries. The course is all about teaching both players and coaches the proper safety of football,” he said.

The USA Football’s Heads Up Football program focuses on eight key areas including certification:

— Equipment fitting, particularly the proper fitting of the helmets and shoulder pads.

— Concussion recognition and response and employing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols.

— Heat preparedness and hydration.

— Plans and procedures in place in case of sudden cardiac arrest.

— Heads-Up tackling which teaches the fundamentals in a safer way. USA Football has added a more advanced progression for high school varsity players.

— Heads-Up blocking which teaches the fundamentals of contact for offensive players without the ball.

— Establishing a player safety coach who is appointed by the school district and will ensure compliance with the Heads Up football safety protocols and coach certification. The appointee will also continue educating coaches, players and parents on safety protocols.

PSRC Athletic Director Jeff Fipps says the program aligns with the district’s goal to reduce the number of head injuries on the field.

“This program gives our staff the new standards to support our students in the effort to take the use of the athlete’s head out of football in terms of blocking and tackling,’ Fipps said. “Our coaches studied these new techniques as well as trained on the field themselves. I am excited that all of our programs will utilize the Heads Up football program to hopefully improve the safety of the game.”

Fipps says the goal for the coming school year is to implement Heads-Up certification at all middle schools in addition to the high schools.

PSRC participated in the Heads Up program through a grant from the Carolina Panthers in conjunction with the N.C. High School Athletic Association.


Robesonian, The. “- Robesonian –” Robesonian. Robesonian, 27 May 2016. Web. 03 June 2016.

State high school athletics associations endorse Heads Up football

The two main organizations that govern high school sports in Virginia – the Virginia High School League (VHSL) and the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association – endorsed a player safety program created by USA Football in April.

The two endorsements came within a week of each other and spread the Heads Up initiative, which sets safety standards and offers certification courses to coaches and trainers, to more than 350 schools in the state with football programs.

“This further raises the bar in coaching education and player safety across the state at the high school level,” USA Football senior communications director Steve Alic said. “What you’re seeing on the high school level in Virginia is going to make a positive difference downstream for youth players as well.”

USA Football is football’s national governing body and its representative on the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The organization developed the Heads Up program in 2012 to promote the adoption of a safer approach to football, particularly in the light of health hazards such as concussions, sudden cardiac arrest and heat stroke.

According to data gathered by USA Football, there have been 47 deaths related to high school football in the past three years.

The program pivots on six educational components: concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest, proper equipment fitting, tackling, and blocking. Heads Up tackling and blocking techniques aim to reduce the impact of those plays on players’ heads.

Coaches involved in the Heads Up program both at the youth and the high school level take required online certification courses that touch on all six educational components.

USA Football is also testing a form of the program where each participating organization has a player safety coach who reinforces Heads Up standards and helps instruct other coaches after being certified.

Fairfax County acted as a pioneer for Heads Up by becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to test the program in 2013, and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) announced in September 2015 that its athletic programs had already seen a 16 percent decrease in injuries and 28 to 36 percent decrease in the number of concussions among student athletes.

FCPS’s example was one factor in convincing the VISAA to endorse Heads Up.

“The people in Fairfax County have been very aggressive in what they’ve done,” VISAA executive director Richard Kemper said. “It’s shown to reduce injuries and reduce the rate of concussions. We wanted to pursue that with our schools, take some of the same principles and see how we can apply those.”

The governing body for accredited private schools in Virginia, the VISAA has a relatively smaller number of football-playing schools, with 45 compared to the more than 300 schools in the VHSL with football, though there’s some overlap since the VHSL started accepting private school members in 2015.

According to Kemper, the group first started having conversations about whether to endorse Heads Up at the VISAA’s annual coaches’ meeting in December, and he later talked to USA Football about the program at the Virginia Athletic Administrative Association conference in Richmond.

Though the VISAA and VHSL discussed endorsing the program independently, they made the decision around the same time because the two organizations generally try to work in conjunction with each other. That coordination ensures that players and coaches will approach the game with the same baseline knowledge and techniques.

“We’re looking to help people become better coaches and to look at ways that we can use the fundamentals of the game to keep students that participate as safe as possible,” Kemper said.

The VISAA hasn’t implemented Heads Up yet but will work on getting it into schools throughout the summer so that the program will be ready when football season starts in the fall. Ideally, all schools in the organization will use Heads Up, but the goal for now is to focus on adoption at the regional level.

Including the VISAA, 25 state high school athletic or state coaches associations from 20 different states around the country have endorsed Heads Up, according to Alic, with 10 of them committing since the end of the 2015 football season.

While the program is specifically designed for football, many of the coaching and training techniques, especially those that relate to player health, can be applied in other sports, such as lacrosse.

“Across the board in high school sports, not just football, many sports are doing good work in the area of player safety,” Alic said. “This further raises the standards and quality of the sport and how we address teaching the sport better and smarter as well as advancing player safety.”



Woolsey, Angela. “State High School Athletics Associations Endorse Heads Up Football.” Fairfax County Times. Fairfax County Times, 20 May 2016. Web. 24 May 2016.

Youth football league adapting to concussion concerns

COLUMBUS — Concussion concerns have led to significant rule changes in professional and college football to improve player safety, from outlawing hits above the shoulders on quarterbacks to targeting penalties called on defenders for leading with their helmets or taking out defenseless receivers.

In Columbus, the same concerns about head trauma linked to health issues in former NFL players have reached the peewee level.

John Zwingman, who organizes Columbus Area Youth Football League, says the concussion scare fueled by media reports and the December release of a film that focuses on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in professional football is impacting parents’ willingness to let their children play the sport.

During his annual report to the Columbus Board of Parks Commissioners this week, Zwingman said fewer kids are going out for youth football now, which prompted a decision to adjust the league to eliminate collisions, and tackling altogether, for the youngest participants.

This year, the local youth league will play flag football for the first time, putting third- and fourth-graders in helmets and pads but taking away the contact some parents fear.

“We’ll really limit collisions by not having full-contact in games,” Zwingman told the park board.

“I think that’s the way we have to go to keep our numbers going strong,” he said.

Zwingman said the league had player safety measures in place long before the “Concussion” movie starring Will Smith brought the CTE debate and connection between repetitive brain trauma and long-term health issues to the big screen.

They cut down on full-contact drills during practices, he said, have certified trainers on-site during all games and require players to sit out at least one contest if they suffer a head injury.

“We have some protocol that we have in place,” he said.

Zwingman told the park board he looked at the Heads Up Football program created by USA Football and backed by the NFL, but the player safety initiative doesn’t mesh with the league schedule. The program calls for a specific number of practices without pads or contact before tackling begins, he said, and the local youth football league doesn’t have enough days available to meet those guidelines.

Instead, he opted to eliminate contact entirely for third- and fourth-graders.

This year is also the first time third-graders will play in the league.

The league previously included youths in fourth through seventh grades, but Zwingman decided to drop seventh grade and add third since many area schools, including all three local schools, have seventh-grade football programs.

In 2015, a total of 382 youths participated in the football league, but only 11 seventh-graders.

Zwingman said he’s fighting an “uphill battle” when it comes to participation numbers since some kids are giving up football to focus on a single sport and others are opting to play club soccer or fall baseball.

He told the park board the flag football portion of the league will still focus on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, but without the contact. Fifth- and sixth-graders will continue to play tackle football.

Columbus High head football coach Craig Williams hasn’t noticed the same drop-off in player numbers reported by Zwingman.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything that has taken kids out of the sport,” Williams said in a phone interview.

Williams said conversations about concussions and how to properly protect student-athletes have been occurring for some time at the high school level.

“We are absolutely more aware of everything,” he said. “As coaches, we’re better trained to recognize signs and get them to a trainer.”

Athletic trainers from Columbus Community Hospital work with Columbus High, Lakeview and Scotus Central Catholic and Williams said the schools have good relationships with local physicians.

“That’s a blessing for us,” he said.

CHS started using computer-based ImPACT testing to determine when an athlete can return to practice and competitions following a concussion several years ago, before a state law required all Nebraska schools to pay closer attention to head injuries, and the athletic trainer, school nurse and counselors work together to adjust coursework and get students the rest and recovery time they need after suffering a concussion.

Rob Marshall, who serves as the full-time athletic trainer at CHS and director of the hospital’s athletic training program, was part of the team that drafted the state’s Concussion Awareness Act, which mandates concussion education for coaches, parents and players, sets rules of play for youths suspected of having a concussion and requires written approval from a licensed health care professional and the student’s parent or guardian before an athlete can return to action.

Under Marshall’s guidance, CHS received the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Safe Sports School award in 2014, making it the first high school in Nebraska to gain the distinction.

Williams said schools and youth football programs must be proactive when it comes to addressing head injuries, although he admitted he’s an “old-school guy” who doesn’t like to see tackling removed from the sport.

“But we’ve got to look out for the best interests of the kids,” he said.

Ellyson, Tyler. “Youth Football League Adapting to Concussion Concerns.” Columbustelegram. Columbustelegram, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

US Lacrosse Experts to Serve as Presenters at Concussion Summit

While there have been great advances in recent years in the understanding of concussions and head injuries, more discussion and data is always welcome in furthering the knowledge base.

It’s that continued quest for greater insight that will draw medical experts, media members, program leaders and others together on Saturday, February 27 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for the International Summit on Female Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The event, sponsored by Pink Concussions with support from US Lacrosse and the NCAA, will feature presentations, roundtables and panel discussions exploring the current research, treatment and protocols for concussions and TBI. Sports related concussions and head injuries will be one of the specific topics discussed.

Serving as panelists to discuss concussion differences by gender in sports will be US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety (SS&S) Committee chair, Dr. Margot Putukian, as well as committee members Dr. Shane Caswell and Dr. Andy Lincoln. Another SS&S Committee member, Dr. Ruben Echemendia, will discuss treatment and protocols, while Melissa Coyne, director of games administration at US Lacrosse, will serve as a panelist discussing how to improve care for female athletes.

“As the national governing body of lacrosse, we’re fortunate to have the outstanding leadership of national and international experts to help guide our policies and best practices for game safety and injury prevention,” said Dr. Bruce Griffin, director of health and sport safety at US Lacrosse. “They serve as a great resource for the lacrosse community, and it comes as no surprise that so many of them are giving their time to share their expertise at this event.”

Led by the expertise of the SS&S Committee, US Lacrosse strives to serve as a source of lacrosse safety education for all members of the leader community. As part of that effort, last year US Lacrosse released guidelines for teams, clubs and organizations to use in developing local concussion management plans. Additional information about concussion awareness in lacrosse is available online.


Ohanian, Paul. “US Lacrosse Experts to Serve as Presenters at Concussion Summit.” US Lacrosse Experts to Serve as Presenters at Concussion Summit. USlacrosse, 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Oregon to be first state to use high school football safety program

High school football programs statewide are kicking off the 2016 season with a focus on coaching education and student-athlete safety through USA Football’s Heads Up Football program. Beginning Feb. 13, USA Football will conduct more than one dozen Heads Up Football Player Safety Coach clinics across Oregon.

For the good of its student-athletes, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) is the country’s first state high school activities association to require its member schools’ football coaches to enroll in USA Football’s Heads Up Football program for the 2016 season.

Heads Up Football establishes nationally endorsed standards rooted in the best available science.

USA Football, the sport’s national governing body and recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee, trains more high school and youth football coaches combined than any organization in the country.

Heads Up Football is a comprehensive approach to teach and play the No. 1 participatory sport of U.S. high school boys. Supported by the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the program teaches tackling and blocking techniques designed to reduce helmet contact while addressing all-sport-relevant topics with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concussion recognition and response; sudden cardiac arrest protocols; hydration and heat preparedness; and instruction on proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.

More than 1,100 high schools and nearly 70 percent of U.S. youth football leagues registered for Heads Up Football in 2015 for smarter, safer play. Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools, the ninth-largest school district in the country and the first school district to adopt Heads Up Football on the high school level, recorded a 16 percent decrease in football injuries and a 28 percent decrease in concussions since employing Heads Up Football’s curriculum and hands-on training.

In addition, the South Bend Community School Corporation employed USA Football’s Heads Up Football program for the first time in 2015 and reported a 40 percent decline in concussions sustained by football-playing student-athletes. 

Each OSAA member school will designate one Player Safety Coach (PSC) from its football coaching staff. PSCs will be trained by USA Football to guide, direct and monitor the program’s implementation as well as lead in-person training for fellow coaches, parents and student-athletes.

“The OSAA is excited to partner with USA Football in implementing the Heads Up Football program,” said Tom Welter, executive director of the OSAA.  “Our primary goal is always to try to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes. This educational program will provide all of our coaches with the knowledge, the training, the skills and the techniques to teach the game of football with safety as the top priority.”

Dr. Michael Koester, chairperson of the OSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, says the Heads Up Football requirement in Oregon is logical considering in 2008 OSAA became the first state high school activities association to prohibit same day return to play for athletes with a suspected concussion.

“The really exciting thing about this program is that what happens at the high school level will spread throughout the youth programs in each community,” Koester said. “This will allow kids to develop their skills in a culture that shares the same language, same techniques and same safety standards from grade school through high school.”

“The OSAA’s commitment to its football student-athletes is exceptional and ground-breaking,” USA Football CEO Scott Hallenbeck said. “As the first state high school association requiring its member schools to employ our medically endorsed Heads Up Football program, the OSAA shares our highest priority of advancing player safety through the best available science. Coaches are teachers. Supporting them with education is a powerful catalyst to change for the better how players are taught and safety is addressed.”

Local clinics in the area will be held at the following dates and locations:

• Saturday, April 30, at Marshfield High School, 927 Ingersoll Avenue, Coos Bay.

• Saturday, July 9, Gold Beach High School, 29516 Ellensburg Avenue, Gold Beach.

Pilot, Curry Coastal. “Oregon to Be First State to Use High School Football Safety Program.” Brookings Oregon News, Sports, & Weather. Curry Pilot, 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Guest Commentary: In youth sports, rewards outweigh risks

Participation in youth sports involves risk. As parents, we all try to understand these risks, weigh them against the benefits, and decide whether it’s worth it to have our kids participate.

Today, one seemingly hears about concussion and its purported consequences at every turn. With the recent release of the movie “Concussion,” even Hollywood has weighed in.

The increased attention has been welcomed in many respects. Concussions are injuries to the brain and need to be taken seriously. Parents, athletes and athletic personnel now increasingly recognize this.

Yet the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to discern what is scientifically well-established, less well-established, or bunk.

The risks of concussion have become widely misunderstood. Concussions are no more frequent today than they were 20 years ago, even if we are better at identifying them. Although they are relatively common in youth sports, they are not inevitable. Football is one of the highest-risk sports, but only about 5 percent of high school athletes sustain concussions each season.

When athletes do sustain concussions, the vast majority recover completely, within days to a few weeks. Certainly, catastrophic outcomes can result from sports-related head trauma. Thankfully, extreme outcomes are rare, statistically about as common as death from lightning.

“Concussion” has contributed to the impression that a clear risk for NFL players is suicide from “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE). But multiple scientific organizations have examined whether concussions cause suicide, and none have found a causal link.

Whether playing in the NFL increases the risk of a unique brain disease like that described for CTE (or another neurodegenerative disease) remains unsettled. Important questions are being asked about what decades of exposure to head trauma might mean, but the research is still in its infancy.

What we can be confident about is that no reasonable scientific evidence exists to indicate that concussion in youth sports causes suicide or late-life neurologic, cognitive, or emotional problems.

Amid all of the discussion about concussion, the advantages of organized sports have been almost entirely neglected. This is unfortunate. Participation in youth sports is associated with innumerable benefits. These include healthier lifestyle habits and reduced obesity, as well as improved social relationships, school performance, self-esteem, and emotional adjustment.

So, should you let your child play contact sports like football, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, or wrestling? That involves lots of factors for each child, and is best made on an individual basis.

My wife and I will let our children play any of these sports. If they begin getting multiple concussions, we will re-evaluate the sensibility of participation with their pediatrician and medical specialists.

The scientifically established benefits of participation in organized sports outweigh the known concussion risks for my own kids. Playing youth sports today is apt to be less dangerous than ever given the broad increase in risk awareness and greater emphasis on player safety in rule-making, coaching and officiating.

Michael Kirkwood is a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

To send a letter to the editor about this article, submit online or check out our guidelines for how to submit by e-mail or mail.


Kirkwood, Michael. “Guest Commentary: In Youth Sports, Rewards Outweigh Risks.” – The Denver Post. Denver Post, 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

State lawmakers look to expand concussion laws to cover students as young as the 5th grade

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (January 21, 2016) — A bill designed to prevent repeated head injuries in athletes as young as the fifth grade continues to advance through the statehouse.

Senate Bill 234 calls for expanding concussion protocol beyond the high school gridiron. Playing under the lights on Friday night can be dangerous, but right now state concussion laws are in place to protect high school football players. The new bill would expand concussion protocol down to the fifth grade and include intramural sports beyond football.

“I would strongly support expanding concussion protocol,” said Dr. Terry Horner, a neurosurgeon and consultant for the Colts and Indiana University.

He told the statehouse committee that expanding the concussion law is important because young kids are more vulnerable to traumatic head injuries.

“We don’t reach brain maturity until the mid-20s, so the more immature we are the greater our chance of having a concussion,” said Horner.

“Going down to the fifth grade and monitoring students is very important,” said Michael Duerson, whose brother, Dave, played in the NFL for the Chicago Bears before committing suicide after suffering concussions during his playing days.

Michael also suffers lifelong health effects from concussions.

“I take 20 pills a night to slow my brain to go to sleep and I take 13 pills in the morning to get me up again,” he said.

This week former IU star Antwaan Randle El said he regrets playing football because of the mental and physical toll it took on his body, including constant memory loss. Medical experts hope a new concussion law will encourage more students and parents to fully consider the risks of playing contact sports.

“We don’t want kids not participating in sports,” said Horner. “We don’t need more couch potatoes. We want kids to be active, so sports are important, but safe sports is our goal.”

Because the bill passed the Family and Children Services committee, the next step will be a vote in the full Senate, which could come as early as next week.



Wells, Jesse. “State Lawmakers Look to Expand Concussion Laws to Cover Students as Young as the 5th Grade.” CBS 4 Indianapolis News Weather Traffic and Sports WTTV. CBS 4 INDY, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

How to make your kid hate sports without really trying

(CNN)Christine Carugati, 18, of Langhorne, Pennyslvania started getting recruited to play college lacrosse the summer after the ninth grade. You heard that right — when she just finished her freshman year in high school.

“What ninth grader knows what they want and what ninth grader, never mind an adult, isn’t easily swayed, thinking somebody wants me. It’s very intoxicating for any age but for a child especially, so my counsel was to keep all your options open,” said her mom, Mary Carugati, during an interview.
Christine Carugati started getting recruited for college lacrosse right after ninth grade.

And now it appears the courting process is starting even earlier. Syracuse University made headlines recently with word that an eighth-grade girl had verbally committed to play on its women’s lacrosse team, a move that appears to be the youngest ever commitment to a men’s or women’s college lacrosse team, according to Lacrosse magazine.
Terry Norpel Dzelzgalvis, who coached recreational league lacrosse for 12 years and played lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania, said the trend to younger and younger commitments is a big concern in youth sports today.
“It’s ridiculous, and the parents aren’t putting their feet down,” she said. (Full disclosure: Norpel Dzelzgalvis and I are friends from college.)
Should high school athletes get EKG tests?
Should high school athletes get EKG tests? 04:59
The early recruiting by colleges combined with parents’ unwillingness to stand up and say no to such practices is just one example of how youth sports has changed and for the worse, coaches, players, authors and parents I interviewed for this story say. And, there are plenty of stats to back up how concerning the problem should be for parents who want the best for their kids.
Seventy percent of children leave organized sports by the age 13, according to research by the National Alliance for Sports. Let’s put it this way: If your daughter or son plays on a soccer team, seven out of 10 of the members of that team won’t be playing soccer or any organized sport whatsoever by the time they enter their teenage years.
“Kids are telling us this is not for me. It might be for you, but it’s really not meeting our needs,” said Mark Hyman, author of three highly-regarded books on kids and sports, including “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids.”
Hyman, who is an assistant professor of management at George Washington University, likes to compare the situation to what might happen in the business world with the same kind of fallout. “If 70% of Walmart’s customers walked out of the store and said, ‘This is not for me. I’m not coming back,’ the status quo would not stand. Walmart would figure out a different business model but in youth sports, we seem to be very satisfied with a 70% dropout rate.”
We shouldn’t be satisfied and should be very worried about how many kids are dropping out, said John O’Sullivan, a former college and professional soccer player, who has coached on every level from children to college, and who now devotes his energy to the Changing the Game Project. His organization’s goal is to return youth sports to the children and to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “
“As I say to all the parents at my parents talks, ‘This isn’t a sports issue. This is a wellness issue,’ ” said O’Sullivan, citing how this generation is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and it’s due to inactivity. “We know all the benefits of activity from better grades to less drugs, less pregnancy, more likely to go to college and on and on and on and yet at the same age when most kids are walking away from sports is that critical age where if they’re active then, they’re likely to be active for life.”

Why are kids walking away

One of the main reasons kids are walking away is because of injuries due to overuse, many of the people I interviewed for this story say. Every year, more than 3.5 million children under the age 14 need treatment for sports injuries, with nearly half of all sports injuries for middle and high school students caused by overuse, according to research.
This is something Hyman knows all too well, he says. His son was a star pitcher at age 10 (he was the coach), and Hyman often thinks about the “pretty profound mistake” he made getting swept up in his son’s success.
By the time his son was 16, he had a ruptured ligament in his elbow, which spelled the beginning of the end for him, said Hyman. “Was I too invested in his youth baseball career? Yes. Should he have pitched less? Yes. Should I have said no to some opportunities he had to play on teams during times of the year when he should have been resting? Yes,” he said.
“So, I guess I’m an example of a parent who I think made some mistakes and probably could help parents understand that they shouldn’t be in a hurry, that if their kids really have talent and passion that they are going to be OK whether they’re playing on six travel teams or just the rec league.”
O’Sullivan, who has two young children ages 8 and 10 who play sports, says having a child concentrate on one sport — and one sport only — before their middle teenage years is a big part of the problem. Parents believe they need to give their kid an edge, he said, but the irony is they may be hurting their child’s athletic future more than helping.
“I’d say that overwhelming emotion is one of fear: ‘What if I don’t give my kid this chance? Am I a bad mom? Am I a bad dad? Will my kid fall behind?’ ” said O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.” “The actual science and evidence that we look at though shows that except in sports like female gymnastics where kids hit their peak when they’re 14- (and) 15-years-old, specializing in one sport before the age of 12 is going to be a far less likely path to actually elite level performance.”
Most kids who do specialize early often say, when they are asked about any regrets, that they wish they did other sports, he said.
Research by the U.S. Olympic Committee shows that the vast majority of elite level athletes are multisport athletes until their middle teenage years, he added.
“I just think it helps if you participate in multiple sports,” said Norpel Dzelzgalvis, the former Division I college player and former coach. “I think that if you look at most college rosters, you will see that these student-athletes have excelled in multiple sports, and not just the one for which they were recruited to play in college.”
Carugati credits Norpel Dzelzgalvis, one of her daughter’s lacrosse coaches from the time she started playing in the second grade and up through the eighth grade, as one of the reasons why her daughter continued to play lacrosse, along with soccer and basketball.
“They never made those girls feel like they couldn’t play another sport,” said Carugati, a mom of three and marketing consultant, who volunteered for her daughter’s recreational league lacrosse program.
Said Norpel Dzelzgalvis, “We never wanted to tell kids who were 11 years old, ‘I’m sorry but you have to commit to this as your year-round sport.’ I mean there’s plenty of time for that but kids would come to us and say, ‘Well, our soccer coach said to us we’ll be off the team if we go to our lacrosse game instead of our soccer game.’ “

Coaches and parents need to ‘redefine’ success

More coaches, who are more focused on keeping the game fun and watching players develop skills that help them for life as opposed to winning at all costs, would no doubt help.
But, it isn’t easy to ignore those pressures to win, says Hyman. He remembers how all the parents were pleased when the team was winning and how those victories reflected positively on him as coach. “Looking back, none of those things really matter when your kid is 8- or 9- or 10 years old. They should be the least important things,” he said.
Coaches should be guided by long-term, not short-term, success, said O’Sullivan.
“So, you know what, on a 9-year-old team, on an 11-year-old team, 12-year-old team, every kid should play every game. Anyone who doesn’t say that doesn’t care about kids and doesn’t understand anything about talent development. You can’t know if an 11-year-old is going to make it or not.”
Should you let your child fail?
Should you let your child fail? 01:09
The concept of success in sports also needs to be redefined, says Janis Meredith, a coach’s wife for 29 years and a sports mom for 21 years, who likes to say she has “seen life from both sides of the bench.”
She writes about sports parenting on her blog and is the author of a sports parenting survival guide, including “22 Ways to Let Kids Be Little in Youth Sports.”
“Success doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be the star on the team. It doesn’t mean that you are always going to start,” said Meredith, who tells the story of how her daughter, when she was a senior in high school, thought about quitting the basketball team because she was getting less playing time that she had during her junior year.
Her daughter ended up sticking with the team, and decided that her role on the team was going to be “the encourager.” At the end of the season, at the awards’ dinner, her coach saluted her as the most encouraging player on the team, said Meredith.
“And I thought, OK, my daughter wasn’t the leading scorer, but you know what, that was success, that she stuck with it and that she turned around her attitude, and that she recognized her role. That to me is success,” she added.
Parents are too often “looking at the only kind of success that ends with a scholarship and there are other ways to have success.”
Not to mention that the chances of your child playing college sports is very small. For example, only about 3% of women and men athletes who play high school basketball go on to play in college, according to an analysis by College Sports Scholarships.

The car ride home

I’ve thought quite a bit about how youth sports has changed since I have two girls, ages 8 and 9 1/2, who both play a variety of sports. I recently dropped off one of my daughters at a soccer practice and was surprised at how many parents were staying to watch. I believe one caregiver was recording the entire practice on her iPhone. Was she doing that so the girls’ parents could see how their daughter did that day?
I remembered how when I was a kid and played softball on a church league, no parent, including my own, attended practice and very few attended games. What changed?
The reasons are countless and aren’t just about sports, but about parenting, too. As we helicopter and hover as parents, we are more involved than ever. Involvement is OK, experts say, but when our kids’ sports life becomes more about us and our needs, then we’ve crossed the line.
“I think a lot of times parents tend to gauge their own self-esteem on how well their kids do, like, ‘I’m so and so’s parent. Did you see how well my kid did?’ ” said Janis Meredith, the blogger. “Maybe they’re trying to make up for something that they didn’t do when they were younger or something that they did do, maybe they want their kid to live up to them.”
Our kids get this message from us when we scream on the sidelines — even when they tell us not to — or when we choose to do play- by-play analysis in the car ride home. When O’Sullivan was director of coaching for a number of soccer clubs and he did exit interviews with kids who decided to leave the club, he said one of the saddest things he learned is their least favorite moment in sports was the car ride home after the game, he wrote in a blog post.
Meredith, a mom of three whose children all played sports from age four through college, said her kids never wanted to dissect the game on the drive home.
“I’m a question asker and I tend to ask a lot of questions and so that often got me in trouble because I would say things like, ‘What happened?’ or ‘Why didn’t the coach put you in?’ … and they’re like, ‘ Mom, enough, the questions, stop,’ ” she said. “We learned after a game to let our kids take the lead on the conversation.”
Letting our kids take the lead in conversation — and when it comes to what sports they play and how often — is a crucial way to keep sports fun and interesting for our children, these experts say.
That is certainly not easy as youth sports has become a multibillion dollar industry, with financial benefits for tournament organizers and apparel manufacturers, and even wins for media companies. (ESPN reportedly pays $7.5 million per year for the rights to broadcast the Little League World Series.)
“The line between professional and college and youth sports has really narrowed,” said Hyman, who also is author of “The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families.”
“Youth sports are now an entertainment product just like the colleges and the pros … and on some level, I think parents are influenced by that.”

Advice for parents

So what’s a parent to do?
No, we can’t single-handedly change youth sports as we know it, but if each parent started practicing good, positive, supportive behavior, with the focus on the fun of the game and nothing else, that’s how you create a movement, said O’Sullivan.
“Then, all of a sudden, good behavior on the sidelines by parents is no longer risky. It’s what everyone does. Being quiet on the ride home, it’s what everyone does.”
Carugati says she was influenced by her niece, who is seven years older than her daughter Christine and who played soccer at Villanova. She played three sports, and never wanted to give any of them up, said Carugati.
“I think I took my lead from my niece and I wanted my daughter to keep enjoying sports,” she said. “I saw it every time the season ended my daughter would be looking forward to the next season and the new sport, and with every change of season, there was new excitement. And I really feel like that kept her interested.”
And now her daughter Christine, a senior in high school, is gearing up to play lacrosse in college. She received an athletic scholarship from Boston University.
Parents should keep their eye on the bigger picture, said Carugati. “The goal is a happy, healthy, well-adjusted, self-supporting adult with a career they are passionate about,” she wrote in an email. “When it’s no longer fun, it’s time to find something else.”
What do you think are the biggest issues in youth sports today? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Health on Twitter or Facebook.
Wallace, Kelly. “Why Are so Many Kids Dropping out of Sports?” CNN. Cable News Network, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Lawsuit alleges PIAA failed to protect students from concussions


Many of Pennsylvania’s 350,000 junior and senior high school athletes likely have experienced severe concussions and the kind of lingering effects three Lawrence County high school athletes had to endure, according to a class-action lawsuit claiming negligence against the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Two former student athletes at Neshannock High School and the father of a senior at Ellwood City sued the PIAA in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court late Thursday alleging the governing body did little to protect them from or help them with concussions suffered while playing high school sports.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages on behalf of Jonathan Hites and Kaela Zingaro, both New Castle residents and 2014 Neshannock graduates, and Domenic Teolis, 17, of Ellwood City.

The head of the state’s governing body over school sports vowed to fight the allegations vigorously, and one legal expert said the PIAA will prevail.

“This lawsuit will lose,” said Hosea Harvey, a Temple University law school professor with expertise in youth sports law. “They are actually undermining the issue of student safety in Pennsylvania.”

Neither Hites nor Zingaro nor their families could be reached for comment. Samuel Teolis, listed as a plaintiff because his son is a minor, declined to comment.

Attorneys for a Texas-based law firm that specializes in class-action lawsuits and which is heading up the litigation against the PIAA did not respond to numerous messages from the Tribune-Review.

Bob Lombardi, the PIAA’s executive director since 1988, said he was blindsided by the lawsuit in light of the measures the organization has implemented in recent years regarding player safety and concussions.

“This blows my mind,” Lombardi said. “All of our schools try to take care of the health of our athletes. I think we have been very responsive in asking our member schools to follow protocols.”


Since 2009, all 50 states passed laws regarding concussions in youth athletes. Pennsylvania in 2012 enacted its Youth in Sports Safety Act, which outlines responsibilities of schools and coaches.

“We have to have a player removed and evaluated by someone who is trained in the management, care and treatment of concussions. That’s the extent of the law,” said Larry Cooper, head athletic trainer at Penn-Trafford High School and chairman of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee.

Many schools go beyond that requirement, implementing preseason baseline assessments for concussions and installing more stringent concussion protocols with the help of brain injury specialists.

“The PIAA was in the forefront, not lagging behind, to try to get something in place as a student safety initiative,” Cooper said. “You have to applaud them for doing that.”

The lawsuit, which alleges negligence before and after Pennsylvania passed its law, describes in detail concussion injuries suffered by the plaintiffs and the failure of coaches and others to recognize and deal with symptoms. No schools or coaches are named in the lawsuit.

Hites suffered a severe concussion in 2011 as a freshman attending a team football camp at Slippery Rock University. It took him more than a year to be medically cleared, but he still experiences learning and social difficulties, the lawsuit states.

Zingaro suffered a concussion in June 2014 while playing in a Neshannock High softball game. Doctors cleared her to return to play two months later, although her attorneys said she continued to experience headaches and trouble with concentration.

Domenic Teolis, now a senior at Ellwood City’s Lincoln High School, suffered multiple concussions in his freshman year during football practices and games, the lawsuit states.

After suffering a concussion in practice in October 2012, Teolis played the next day against Central Valley, his lawyers said. He reported concussive symptoms to a trainer and coaches, but nothing was done until his parents took him to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC that night, the lawsuit states.


The lawsuit claims the PIAA violated state law by not:

• requiring concussion baseline tests;

• tracking and reporting concussions;

• requiring qualified medical personnel be present at all PIAA-sanctioned practices and events;

• removing athletes with apparent concussions from practices and games;

• taking measures to educate school personnel on how to provide proper medical response to suspected concussions; and

• providing resources for student-athletes in seeking professional medical care at the time of a concussion, during treatment or for post-injury monitoring.

“None of these are required under Pennsylvania law,” said Harvey, the Temple professor. “They just aren’t.”

In addition to paying for its alleged negligence, the lawsuit wants a court to order the PIAA to establish a medical monitoring trust fund to pay for ongoing and long-term expenses of student athletes and former student athletes.


Lawyers filed a similar suit last year against the Illinois High School Association, making it the first prep sports governing body in the country to face a class-action concussion lawsuit.

A judge in October dismissed the case, saying the IHSA had worked to improve protections for student athletes and that imposing broader liability on the governing body could reduce participation in high school football or end the sport altogether.

Harvey said the lawsuit filed in Lawrence County “cuts and pastes” whole sections of the failed litigation filed in Illinois.

Instead of frivolously suing the PIAA, the plaintiffs should address their concerns to state lawmakers in an effort to improve Pennsylvania law, the professor said.

“The allegations of what happened are not frivolous, and the solutions aren’t frivolous,” Harvey said. “But these are best addressed through the Legislature.”

Source: Cato, Jason. “Lawsuit Alleges PIAA Failed to Protect Students from Concussions.” N.p., 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Is high school football worth the injury risk?

Everyone knows football is a dangerous sport. No matter how much protective equipment kids strap on or how leagues alter or impose new rules to reinforce player safety, injuries are bound to occur.

While in the past those injuries tended to be reported as things like sprained ankles or the occasional broken arm, lately it seems like more and more young athletes are suffering serious, even life threatening traumas.

From back in the day when players first strapped leather padding to their heads, helmets have been associated as the go-to in football protective gear. More recently, as people began taking serious notice of concussions, tackling and “targeting” rules (specifically prohibiting helmet-to-helmet contact) have been imposed league-wide in an attempt to stave off unnecessary injury.

The problem is that with players now tackling lower on the body, from the knees to shoulders, it has unintentionally opened up a different problem: “liver” hits.

In September 2015 alone, three high school football players died from game related injuries and, according to CBS News, another 16 have died in the past two years. The Denver Post reported that that number jumps to 77 if you take it back to 1995.

In early October, 15-year-old Taylor Haugen died of a massive liver rupture after getting hit simultaneously from the front and the back during a football game in Florida. The week prior, a player in New Jersey died from a lacerated spleen after he was tackled around the midsection.

Both were legal hits.

While cases of head injury are now more documented, enabling players and coaches to take protective measures, body hits typically aren’t.

According to The Denver Post, although 1.1 million kids play high school football across the country every year, over the past five years, that number has dropped by more than 25,00o as schools are disbanding their programs due to injuries or low student interest.

The question remains: Is football too dangerous to be a high school sport? Opinion varies.

Proponents of the game will usually agree that while the sport can have its risks, players know what they’re signing up for and pretty much any sport carries some risk factor in play, which is true. A study commissioned by USA Baseball showed that between 1989 to 2010, 18 children younger than high school age died of injuries from baseball.

A report put forth by the University of North Carolina concluded that high school wrestling has been associated with 63 “direct catastrophic injuries” over the past 30 years.

So it’s not just football.

The problem isn’t that people don’t know that football is dangerous, it’s that the sport is so ingrained upon the culture that the slightest change in a regulation sparks mass outrage — even if the new rule is only meant to protect the players.

So, what’s next? Flag football? Honestly, especially in the Southern states, that will probably never fly. But the situation is well on its way to becoming a more discussed topic.

Football has become an issue of safety versus tradition, but which is more important? And keep in mind that we’re not talking about professional athletes here. These are kids.

Source: “Is High School Football worth the Injury Risk? – Pickens Sentinel –” Pickens Sentinel. N.p., 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.