When it comes to playing football, Tennessee Athletic Director Chris Snoddy has a word of advice: take the head out of it.
“I think we want to do more with the heads than we used to, the head has kind of become a big thing. Part of the influence of the NFL everyone wants to make a big hit,” says Chris Snoddy, President of the Tennessee Athletic Trainers Society.
Making a big hit may mean the risk of concussion. Snoddy says that concussions are no longer taken lightly in sports; they are traumatic brain injuries, and could mean keeping an athlete on the sidelines for several weeks. The Centers for Disease Control reports that sports-related concussions in the U.S have reached an epidemic level, with around 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States every year.
“I think we’re more aware of concussions and we’re more focused on concussions now. Twenty years ago you just kind of played through it because you didn’t know any better as an athlete, and you know everybody kind of got their bell rung, or what they called ‘the dinger,’” says Snoddy.
But football isn’t always the culprit. High school athlete Cole Porter got a concussion while wakeboarding.
“I went up for a jump and I just came down wrong, and I landed headfirst. When I came back up I was little dizzy. And when I got back to the boat I had just a major headache, and that kind of set it off,” says Porter.
Signs and symptoms of concussions can include headache, dizziness, loss of memory, confusion, loss of consciousness, ringing in the ears, and nausea or vomiting.
Athletic trainer Chris Snoddy says that the athletes he sees are involved in multiple sports that put them at risk for concussion.
“Soccer and cheerleading have very high concussion rates, cheerleading may have the highest,” says Snoddy.
Before his team’s practice, Porter took a balance test. The test, which includes various movements like standing on one foot, gauges concussion recovery. Tennessee is one of only five states in the nation that currently has no existing or pending legislation around concussion testing. However, most high schools already follow guidelines for preventing and managing concussions set by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
There are various ways student athletes can prevent concussions, though wearing a helmet isn’t always one of them.
“The helmet and the head does not need to be the primary contact point. The helmets were designed to prevent skull fractures, they do a great job at preventing skull fractures. And that was a problem fifty or sixty years ago. No one gets a skull fracture hardly playing football anymore because of helmets,” says Snoddy.
“But just like you can bust the yoke of an egg by shaking it, and never break the shell, the same is true with concussions. And the brain inside the skull.”
So just how do you prevent the yolk from getting broken?
“One great way to prevent concussions is to teach your athletes to hit the right way…using the shoulder pads, using the forearm. It’s also good for your athletic trainer, your coach and your parents and your athlete to have a very honest and open dialog saying my son has got hurt doing this other thing…so we can protect him and hold him out of activities until he’s safe to return.”