How to keep kids safe when playing contact sports
As parents and as a society, we have no greater responsibility than ensuring our children are kept safe. But while there are no guarantees when they undertake contact sports for kids, there are things we can do to lessen the likelihood of them receiving some type of brain or spinal cord injury.
Concussion—the temporary unconsciousness or confusion caused by a blow on the head—is always a possibility during contact sport. It’s a great shame that a piece of equipment that can reduce the impacts of concussion has yet to be invented. However, the use of soft helmets in contact sports has been proven to reduce the incidence of facial fractures and facial lacerations.
It is of vital importance that young people engaging in these types of sports are taught the right way to tackle—in particular, how to avoid tackling around the head. It’s also important that they understand the possible repercussions if this advice is not heeded.
Enforcement of the head-high tackle rules is hugely important that when our kids are participating in contact sports. There must be an official governing the game who can send somebody off the field if they put an opposing player at risk.
Likewise, teammates, administration and coaching staff all need to be made aware that if a child is clearly concussed then they need to be brought off the field without hesitation.
I am of the firm opinion that medically qualified staff should be in attendance at every game involving contact sports for kids. At the very least they should have appropriate training in first aid techniques and concussion management.
When we see our children lying injured, our first instinct is always to pick them up. This is the worst thing that we can do. Unfortunately, I have seen too many incidents where the original injury has been made worse by unsuspecting parents or carers who have moved the patient in an attempt to comfort the injured party.
What are the most dangerous contact sports?
The good work done by people such as former international rugby player turned media commentator Peter Fitzsimons has helped raise awareness of the issue but it is a misconception that this is only an issue among those who play rugby union or rugby league.
The truth of the matter is that all football has a reasonably high incidence of spinal cord injuries and concussion but there are other sports, such as martial arts, boxing and cricket, where these types of traumatic injuries often occur.
Less obvious sports such as hockey and skiing, both of which are popular in Australia, also have their fair share of injuries of this nature. In fact, head injuries occurring while skiing are among the most severe. This is largely because if you’re not wearing a helmet and you hit someone or something at speed, chances are that you’re going to experience a very significant injury.
The same applies to skateboarding which is the one sport where it has been proven that wearing a helmet can make a significant difference. I believe that—just like bike riding—there should be legislation making the donning of a helmet compulsory when skateboarding.
About Dr Richard Parkinson
Dr Richard Parkinson is a Fellowship trained neurointerventional neurosurgeon and minimally invasive spinal surgeon based in Sydney. He has been performing minimally invasive and complex spinal surgery for 18+ years and has built his reputation on his conservative approach to surgery. He operates at Sydney’s leading private hospitals and has performed surgery on a very significant volume of patients requiring both straight-forward and complex spine surgery. Read his full biography here.