Archived Story

See what you hit: Coaches stress proper tackling form to players

Published 11:47am Monday, July 8, 2013

By Griffin Pritchard

Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a special in-depth feature dealing with the increased awareness of concussion among athletes. This installment discusses telltale signs of a concussion and steps that parents and coaches can take to help athletes of all ages lessen the risk of concussions.
Sometimes, diagnosing a concussion comes from a coach’s or physician’s familiarity with a player.
Brett Vinson, facility director at Wetumpka’s Rehab Associates, said knowing players and their personalities can help when trying to diagnose a head injury.
“The more I know them, the more I’m able to notice subtle changes. If the kid is usually a sharp kid and if after a tackle or a collision, he’s suddenly not, that’s something to check on,” said Vinson. “The same thing for the kid who’s jovial and joking and having a good time. If all of a sudden he’s emotional or has a blank stare – there’s a problem there.”
Vinson said there’s always a plan of action when dealing with any type injury, especially a head injury.
“To the brain, a violent tackle can feel the same as a car wreck, especially if the body goes one way and the head goes another,” said Vinson. “It’s whiplash.  Anything beyond a kid just having his bell rung, I’m not going to send them home with the parent. I’m going to send them to the hospital to get checked out. And a lot of it is being proactive.”
In addition, Vinson said patience is also a key to ensuring a player receives a clean bill of health.
“There are no outside symptoms they are healing,” said Vinson. “They will initially present with symptoms like blurred vision and just not being themselves. After a couple of days they may be healing, but they aren’t quite ready to get back out there. But you’re dealing with youth, and they may not take the best care of their bodies. A knee you can brace or immobilize – you can’t do that to a head.”
A 2012 paper presented to the Amercican Academy of Pediatrics pointed out that high schools with athletic trainers have concussion rates much higher than those that don’t (eight times higher in girls soccer and 4.5 times higher in girls’ basketball). The reasoning in the higher numbers could be due to athletic trainers’ having the ability to spot the subtle signs of a concussion – a stat that goes back to Vinson being able to be around and know the players.
Having a player suffer a concussion, mild or severe, can also alter the course of a season.
Dwayne Thomas, head football coach of Lyman Ward, knows that firsthand.
As his team struggled on the field last season, the Rangers were decimated by mounting injuries of all sorts. Eventually, Lyman Ward was forced to cancel itsseason-ending game.
One of Thomas’ players had suffered a concussion weeks before.
“One of our kids had a concussion, and he was out for a couple weeks,” Thomas said. “The doctor had cleared him, but we didn’t see the point of risking him for one more game.”
While that was the first concussion a player had suffered at Lyman Ward during Thomas’ tenure, it isn’t the first time the coach has had to deal with concussions.
“I have a 16-year-old son who plays for Madison County, and he suffered a concussion last year,” Thomas said. “Because of how prevalent the concussion issue has become in recent years, we’re taking steps to try to prevent them.”
Concussions and head injuries, unfortunately, aren’t only limited to the upper ranks. Middle schoolers and youth athletes are also  at risk.
“The biggest thing for the middle school parents and youth sports coaches and parents is that they’re educated,” said Vinson. “I, As the sports med provider for the community, if I’m at a game, whether it be youth football or a softball tournament at the park, and I see something that looks bad, I’m going to check it out. Especially if the kid’s out of it and mom or dad starts freaking out. I’ll tell them this is what you should look for and educate them, especially if the symptoms don’t show up for seven or eight hours later. I’ll give them my number and tell them to call me.  It’s tough because you can’t see it.”
Benjamin Russell head football coach Danny Horn agreed that education was one of the best courses of action, adding that said education starts on the field.
“You have to teach the kids how to tackle,” Horn said. “You have to see what you hit and keep your head up. It’s more than just having a good helmet.”
Thomas concurred.
“We’ve made sure that our helmets have been recertified and that they are top of the line, but I don’t think that the helmet has a lot to do with preventing concussions,” Thomas said. “I think it falls on coaching styles, in particular teaching kids how to give a lick and take a lick. It goes much further than just having the best helmet. You have to be aware and use the proper technique on the field. It’s on us to make sure the players are properly schooled on delivering impact.”
While Horn said he doesn’t believe that having top-flight helmets doesn’t eliminate the risk of concussion, he said it never hurts to make sure they’re in the best shape.
“We make sure our helmets are reconditioned every year, and that’s something you’re only required to do every two years,” Horn said. “We want to keep the helmets in good standing, but no helmet can completely prevent a concussion. You can lessen the risk, but the only way to truly prevent it is if we played tag. “
Thomas agreed and said that before camp began, he and his coaching staff would make sure players understood the risks of concussions.
“Our kids have so much that they do during the day anyway, with drills and the like,” Thomas said. “I know this though: we start practice on Aug. 10, and we aren’t going full pads until our players are fully educated on concussions. Our coaching staff is emphasizing that.”
Pritchard is sports editor for the Wetumpka Herald.