By Paul Ohanian
Last week, President Obama hosted the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit at the White Youth, with particular emphasis on creating a safer youth sports culture. US Lacrosse supports the idea of a safer youth sports environment, whether that includes reducing the incidence of concussions, expanding education opportunities for coaches or officials, or providing guidelines for parents on what policies and procedures should be in place in their local youth league.
A great deal of time and resources, from the White House to the National Football League, has been committed to the issue of concussions in sports. In fact, last week’s White House summit comes almost exactly one year after the NFL hosted a similar event at its headquarters in New York City. That event, tagged as a ‘safety roundtable’ was targeted to social media bloggers, with representatives from seven national youth sports organizations, including US Lacrosse, providing updates and answering questions for the invited group of bloggers.
Along with a couple other members of the US Lacrosse staff, I had a chance to attend that NFL roundtable last year, and two stories, in particular, really hit home. Both involved the process of making rules adjustments in the name of safety.
Kevin McLaughlin, senior director of hockey development with USA Hockey, told the audience constant rules changes in hockey are a necessary practice in making the game safer. Unfortunately, those changes don’t always receive uniform support from the membership base. Removing full body checking from 11-and 12-year old hockey was a case in point.
“Initially, we received a lot of venomous feedback, but I think it was the vocal minority,” McLaughlin said. “Our end goal is healthier kids.”
A few years ago, Little League Baseball eliminated the on-deck position to enhance safety among its players. While initially met with resistance, president and CEO Stephen Keener said that now, “they don’t even miss it.”
Clearly, both decisions were made in hopes of creating a safer environment for youth players in those sports, but how interesting that changing traditional practices, even when made in the name of safety, can be difficult for some to accept.
Similarly, US Lacrosse is constantly seeking ways to make the sport safer and create the most positive experience possible for participants. Rules adjustments, coaches, officials and parents’ education, as well as equipment modifications are all part of the process. Not all changes are met with uniform support.
Balancing the rewards of youth sports participation against the injury risk of participation can be difficult. Parents need to understand the critical role they also play in ensuring sports safety for their kids. This includes asking questions and understanding the affiliation of their child’s team or league with a national organization. More than focusing on the level of competition, parents should know if coaches must pass criminal background checks, or if the league has a protocol for dealing with concussions and other injuries.
Ultimately, President Obama, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of us are all seeking the same thing.
“Sport teaches our kids a lot and we need to do what we can to keep it up,” said Goodell, who has twin daughters that play youth lacrosse. “It’s up to us to make it better and to share what we know to make the games safer.”
Because of the support of US Lacrosse Foundation donors, US Lacrosse is a leader among national governing bodies in health and safety research and education for its athletes. The responsible growth of the sport depends on safety. Please consider a donation today.