Indiana To Mandate Concussion-Awareness Training

fromWFIU

States are implementing laws aimed at preventing concussions in sports. Indiana may become the first state to mandate concussion-awareness training for high school and youth football coaches.

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The National Football League has been confronting questions about head injuries and the danger of concussions among its players. But football is a contact sport beginning at a much younger age, and many states are implementing - or at least considering - new policies to protect student athletes from head injuries. In Indiana, high school and youth football coaches could soon be required to teach concussion-awareness.

That would make Indiana the first state to mandate comprehensive safety training. Some doctors call this a good first step, but are calling for much more. Gretchen Frazee, from member station WFIU, reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL PRACTICE)

SCOTT BLESS: Play. Get to the football.

GRETCHEN FRAZEE, BYLINE: At a high school fall football practice in Bloomington, Ind., players are tackling each other, their helmets clashing together on contact.

BLESS: Hit! Lock it out. Lock it out. Lock it out. Good!

FRAZEE: The problem is with those helmet-to-helmet collisions. While they can shut down a big play, they can also hurt young athletes. Many doctors and coaches say the repeated blows can cause concussions.

HUGH JACKSON: I like to play with my head and so like, I would hit with my head a lot.

FRAZEE: After several hard hits at practice last year, senior football defensive end Hugh Jackson wasn't feeling quite right.

JACKSON: I noticed I started to get dizzy, and teammates noticed that my eyes were like, wandering and everything.

FRAZEE: After another hit, he blacked out, and a trainer sent him to the hospital. He had a concussion.

Indiana lawmakers say coaches need to better understand concussion symptoms and how to prevent concussions. That's why Indiana will mandate concussion-awareness training for all high school and youth football coaches - teaching them everything from tackling techniques to proper uniform fitting.

BLESS: I think it's all designed as an educational piece to bring awareness to OK, he's not dinged like it was back when I was in school; somebody got their bell rung, or they got dinged.

FRAZEE: That's Jackson's football coach, Scott Bless. He joins the chorus of lawmakers and parents supporting the idea, but he's concerned that it might not be embraced by the relatively small pool of people who volunteer to coach.

BLESS: Especially at the youth level, where coaches are all volunteer coaches. Is that going to be a stumbling block that makes it tougher to find youth coaches? You know, many of those coaches are coming straight from a job, hustling to get there.

FRAZEE: Jennifer Phelps is with USA Football, the national governing body for youth football, based in Indianapolis. And she says her group doesn't want to scare off volunteer coaches either. So it's created a short training course that fits Indiana's new requirements.

JENNIFER PHELPS: The cost for youth football is only $5, and it's about an hour and a half of your time. And that - that is such a low entry, so that you have the tools and that you're able to coach the game in a safe and effective way.

FRAZEE: Henry Feuer is a retired neurosurgeon and NFL consultant. He says there are bigger medical issues with the proposal. First, the mandate only applies to football.

DR. HENRY FEUER: Just to say football, when it's happening in several other sports on a regular basis, is just missing the point.

FRAZEE: Those sports include soccer, basketball, hockey and lacrosse. And while studies have shown football has the highest rate of concussions, other sports aren't far behind. Feuer also says schools and sports organizations are expecting coaches to take on responsibilities that should be handled by doctors.

FEUER: What does he do when he gets to the sideline with that kid? When he pulls that kid out of the game, then what happens?

FRAZEE: Feuer is viewing Indiana's proposal as a good first step, and something he hopes other states will build on in their efforts to keep kids from getting concussions.

For NPR News, I'm Gretchen Frazee in Bloomington, Ind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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