Youth Football Coaches Learn to Recognize, Prevent Concussions

Updated: 07/12/2014 8:45 PM
Created: 07/12/2014 1:28 PM
By: Kate Renner

The NCAA has released new guidelines for concussion safety, including limiting live contact football practices to two per week during the season. But concussion prevention isn't just happening at the college or NFL levels.

On Saturday, youth coaches got the training they need to keep their young athletes safe while playing football. Former Viking John Swain, who played with the team from 1981 to 1984, now trains other coaches to recognize signs of concussions through the program "Heads Up Football."

He says concussions were a regular occurrence when he was on the field.

"I saw the stars and everything," said Swain about getting knocked out. The trainer took him out of the game, but three days later he was back on the field.

"In retrospect, I 100 percent should have not played," Swain said.

The NFL isn't the only league learning from earlier mistakes; even youth coaches are learning the signs of a concussion. Anthony Burke, a youth football coach in Eden Prairie, said he learned to be cautious at a young age.

"My oldest brother got two concussions in a game when he was a sophomore, and he ended up with a traumatic brain injury and lost his memory basically back to second grade," Burke said.

Many parents aren't letting their kids play this full-contact sport; local football coaches have seen a decrease of 10 percent in the number of youth athletes going out for football because of safety concerns in recent years. 

But training like the one that took place Saturday is meant to teach safer techniques.

"You're teaching them a basic position, which is always your hips down, head up, chest up," Heads Up Football Master Trainer Matt Gegenheimer said.

"You still tackle, but you're using more of the shoulder pads versus the helmet," Swain said, adding that if youth ever "see stars" like he did, he immediately points them to the bench. "You've got to take these kids out of play with any head injuries," Swain said.

Gegenheimer agreed. "If you don't diagnose it and you rush them back into playing, they're five to six times more likely to get a repeat concussion and an even worse concussion," he said.

To help recognize a concussion, watch for a forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head and any change in the athlete's behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.

This handout photo provided by the Southern Impact Research Center in Tennessee, taken June 18, shows equipment that can test how football helmets perform against certain concussion-causing forces.
Photo: AP/Handout

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