Almost a year ago, the U.S. National Athletic Trainers Association, the NATA, hosted its first "Youth Sports Safety Summit" to encourage legislation and make recommendations on how to reduce injuries among youth athletes. NATA experts reconvened in Washington recently to mark their progress and address the latest developments in research, prevention and treatment of sports injuries.
The event was moderated by National Athletic Trainers Association President Marjorie Albohm, who says that despite progress, there are still too many injuries to young athletes.
"One unnecessary death is too many," said Albohm. "But with so many great organizations working together to address this crisis, things will get better."
Nearly 50 young athletes in 25 states have died this year, with an average of nearly 8,000 being treated in emergency rooms every day for sports-related injuries. During the 2008-2009 school year, some 400,000 concussions occurred in high school sports. Yet only 42 percent of high schools have access to athletic training facilities and 47 percent of schools across the country fall short of federal recommended nurse-to-student ratios or have no nurse at all.
The summit also looked at heat-related illness, sudden cardiac arrest and sickle cell traits among other conditions. Of the youth athletes included in the report, nearly half of the 50 succumbed to sudden cardiac arrest, while heat-related illness and brain injuries each caused three deaths.
But with the support of nearly 40 sports and health organizations in the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, progress is being made. The NATA has issued a revised "call to action" that includes an effort to pass legislation to address safety issues and prevent further deaths. Albohm says it has been gratifying.
"The 40 members, and we expect that number to grow, we've been working with members of Congress protecting our young athletes from concussion," she said. "That language in those bills is critical and we have been very active in giving input in that language."
The National Football League's focus on injuries caused by helmet-to-helmet hits in professional football has had a positive affect on youth sports by helping highlight the urgent need for improved health care on the playing field. The NFL has partnered with the NATA to lobby for legislation similar to that already passed by nine states to make youth sports safer.
"There are three core principles," said NFL Vice President for Government Relations and Public Policy Jeff Miller "One is education. On a yearly basis, a concussion and head injury information sheet must be signed and returned by a youth athlete and his or her guardian or parent. The second element is removal, which is that if the child is suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury, he or she needs to be removed from competition, play or practice - immediately. Then the third element is when and how that youth athlete can be allowed to return to play."
Dawn Comstock of The Ohio State University College of Medicine says that even though males compete in more sports than females, young women are more likely to suffer concussions. Although there was no difference in the number of symptoms reported, the symptoms varied by gender. Dr. Comstock says a girl complaining of problems sleeping or light-sensitivity is just as likely to have a concussion as a boy reporting memory loss or dizziness
"We need everybody - all of the adults that are around these high school athletes need to be aware of all of the signs and symptoms of a concussion," said Comstock. "Parents, coaches, athletic trainers, physicians and the student athletes themselves need to be aware that there are many signs and symptoms that can indicate a concussion."
The National Athletic Trainers Association issued a "report card" on youth sports safety in the United States for 2010. It gave the nation a grade of C+ (slightly above average) but says it hopes that will improve next year with a reduction of injuries and deaths in young athletes.