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Concussions and Youth Sports

November 6, 2014

Concussions in Youth Sports takes a look at young athletes in different sports sustaining concussions. The report looks not only at youth football but other contact sports, like girls soccer.

Sabrina Register: Football today is as polarizing as it is popular. Boys love the game and so do many parents, until it comes to letting their children play the physical sport.

Joe Geivett : Oh you let your son play football? Yeah, I let him play football.Fearing concussions, many parents have opted against football for their children.

Register : Joe and Gwen Geivett allowed their oldest child Peter to play football four years ago when he entered high school. He was thrilled.

Peter Geivett: I personally like the physicality of it, getting to hit people and stuff. It’s also fun being with my team mates.

Register: The Geivetts weren’t really worried about Peter suffering a concussion, or their daughter Greta, another athlete in the family.

Gwen Geivett: She plays soccer, played basketball, softball, she snow skis, water skis, any time she can move her body she does it, she’s very active.

Sabrina Register: But the Geivetts were soon dealing with a jarring reality.

Peter Geivett: She’s the soccer softball player that’s had four concussions and I’m the football player that hasn’t had any so it’s kind of weird that way.

Register: You heard right. Peter hasn’t had any diagnosed concussions. But Greta has suffered four in the last seven years. One happened falling on her back patio, but the other three came from sports: one playing basketball and two playing soccer.

Greta Geivett: One of them I was running and a girl tripped me and I fell and hit my head. The other one I took the ball from a girl and then I kicked it up the field and then she head butted me and knocked me out.

Register: A fluke, a rarity that Greta would suffer multiple concussions instead of her football-playing brother? Not really says Dr. Stan Herring.

Seattle high school football player Peter Geivett says unlike his soccer-playing sister, he has never suffered a concussion.

Research shows that concussions are not just reserved for boys and football.












Dr. Stan Herring: Concussions are not a boy thing and not a football thing. It’s both genders and many different sports.

Register: Dr. Herring should know. He’s studied brain injuries for the last 30 plus years. A physician and professor at the University of Washington, Herring is also co-director of the sports concussion program, managed by UW, Harborview Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, as well as a team physician for the Seattle Mariners and the Seattle Seahawks.

Herring: Taking out professional and collegiate sports, just looking at sports, recreational concussions in the United States, 3.8 to 4 million a year. They’re incredibly common and the great majority get better but because there are so many and they don’t all get better, we all hear about the ones that do not improve.

Register: Lately that message has been coming in loud and clear in article after article about football concussions and catastrophic consequences. But Herring notes that little is said about other sports: hockey, lacrosse, and soccer, including girls soccer.

Herring: The rate of concussions in girls soccer is almost as high as boys football. In college, the rate is even higher.

Register: Dr. Herring is referring to a study performed by the University of Washington and published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Investigators looked at incidence rates of concussion among high school athletes in Washington State for 2012. Although the number of concussions in football was higher, the rate per one thousand athletic exposures was equal to girls soccer.

Dr. Stan Herring, who helped write Washington State’s concussion law, says for most kids, the benefits of youth sports far outweigh the risk of concussions. He worries that kids kept out of sports are at risk for diabetes and obesity.

Gina Legaz : It’s a really physical sport.

Register : Gina Legaz grew up playing soccer. First rec soccer, then high school and select ball, and finally collegiate, as a record-setting goal keeper at Gonzaga.

Legaz : I saw lots of injuries from my team mates, I suffered a lot of them from bad contusions to concussions to broken ribs from bodies hitting bodies, bodies hitting the ground, heads hitting heads and heads hitting goal  posts.

Register : Legaz suffered a few concussions during her soccer-playing days. Sometimes she stayed on the sidelines but back when she played soccer, there were no clear guidelines about playing with a concussion.

Legaz : If you got hurt or got out of the game, you decide when you go back in and I decided I was ready, that I wanted to play our archrival. I wanted to go back in. Little did I know I really wasn’t.

Herring : It’s not the first concussion that’s usually the problem. It’s playing with symptoms which can lead to short term and rarely long term devastating consequences.

Register : In 2006, Zachery Lystedt suffered multiple concussions while playing in a junior high football game near Seattle. He suffered severe brain trauma and was hospitalized for nearly two years. With the help of two authors, Dr. Herring drafted the first youth concussion legislation of its kind in the U-S. It requires medical clearance for youth athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion before sending them back in the game, practice, or training. In 2009, the state legislature unanimously passed it.

Herring : It was very exciting and melancholy at the same time because you know it took a preventable brain injury in a young man to get the world to listen.

Register : As of this year, all fifty states and the District of Columbia have legislation safeguarding concussed athletes. Dr. Herring says there have been other improvements, like penalties in soccer for elbow to head contact. USA Football, the national governing body for youth, high school, and amateur football, has developed programs to teach players proper tackling techniques to take unnecessary contact out of the game. Dr. Herring says parents should certainly be aware of the risk of concussions and other injuries, but encourages them not to have a knee jerk reaction.

Greta says she can’t imagine her life without sports. Over the years, concussions have kept her on the sidelines until her doctor clears her to return to sports.

Herring : For almost all young people, sports are safe, especially if you pay attention and they’re valuable. We don’t not want young people to play sports. I often tell parents, “Do you know what the most dangerous part about your son playing football or your daughter playing soccer is? The most dangerous part of the game where they could suffer a head injury is riding their bike to practice.

Register : Those words ring true for the Geivett family. They take the Lystedt law very seriously.

Gwen Geivett : We keep her out as long as she has to stay out.

Register : They’re not likely to force Greta to hang up her cleats anytime soon.

Joe Geivett : I wouldn’t say we’d take her out of sports. I would say that we’d be mindful that she’s healthy and able before she can go back in.

Greta Geivett : If I couldn’t play, I honestly don’t know what I’d do. I wouldn’t be in shape or anything. I would just kind of sit around and I wouldn’t have a lot of the friends that I have. I honestly don’t know what would happen.




Made possible in part by

Sabrina Register

Sabrina Register is an award-winning journalist who has been covering stories that are relevant and matter to the people of the Northwest for close to 20 years. A graduate of Vanderbilt University with a concentration in political science, Sabrina began her television career in Mississippi. After spending two years reporting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sabrina moved to Seattle in the mid-1990’s to cover news of the Northwest. Sabrina’s awards include top recognition from the Associated Press and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award for investigating reporting.

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