Education is for the parents too!

Parent’s Perspective by David Bookstaff, VP of Operations – Sports Brain

As a parent working in the concussion field, I have the advantage of knowing and understanding a bit more about concussions than most other parents. One of the most important things I have learned is concussions are different than any other injury our kids will face. Parents need to understand these simple facts about sports related injuries.

  • Other injuries can be seen
  • Other injuries can be felt
  • Other injuries are best treated after they happen

If my child takes a hit to any other part of the body I typically see a bruise, a red mark, a cleat imprint, even blood. If the injury isn’t visible, I am confident that he can feel it. His ankle or knee may be tender or hurt when he walks on it. But again, the injury is very noticeable.

The one commonality among all sports related injuries is that there is not much I can do to protect him in advance. It is possible to strengthen certain muscle groups during training and this will aid in an athlete’s recovery if they do get hurt. But as a parent, we cannot prevent our kids from the possibility of an injury while playing sports. We can only help them by creating the most optimal environment for them to learn, practice, and play team sports.

Like all parents, if my child gets hurt, I do whatever I can to make sure he is fully recovered. He may need to be bandaged, casted, or need physical therapy. The brain, however, is different and most parents haven’t learned the best way to treat a brain injury. The good news is we can do something important BEFORE a concussion occurs.

We get a lot of information from the media about concussion-related injuries to professional athletes. I know that many parents have difficulty understanding what a concussion truly means. We teach parents to remove the word “concussion” from their vocabulary and insert the phrase “brain injury”. That will give you a better idea of how seriously you should take the issue. Unfortunately, many times parents live with the fear and hope that our children don’t get a concussion.

This is why I preach the importance of baseline concussion testing every day. I tell people the most important action that can take for recovering from a concussion is to have proper baseline concussion testing done BEFORE the injury. These results help medical professionals prescribe the best care for the quickest recovery so our kids can get back to playing and having fun.

Our coaches tell us their team takes all injuries seriously. They want our kids to be safe and have fun. So we need to work together to make sure our kids have the best opportunity to do just that.

In most situations, we do everything in our power to take care of our children. For example, we prepare our kids for the beginning of their sport by getting proper fitting equipment to help protect their body. Baseline concussion testing is just one more step in preparation for the season.

Here are some examples of kids who suffered concussions and did not receive the best possible care because they had not take baseline concussion tests:

  1. A player on my son’s soccer team suffered a concussion. Two weeks post-concussion he was examined by a doctor and was completely symptom free. The doctor said his balance was a little questionable and he should sit out another week and then he would be fine to resume play. No further examinations were needed. But I thought, maybe his balance was always off and sitting out another week wouldn’t change anything. Maybe his balance was affected by the concussion and in another week he still won’t be fully recovered. No one really knows for sure because there wasn’t any quantitative baseline data to compare to his current status. Everyone reacts differently to a concussion and everyone recovers at a different rate.


  1. Another story, out of the Chicago area, was from a parent whose child suffered a concussion in wrestling. The doctor asked if there was a baseline concussion test done before the season began. When told no, the doctor told the athlete’s family that he was automatically out for 3 months because that was the time frame the doctor felt was the safest for recovery from this concussion.

In both of these cases, the doctors had to use personal judgment instead of objective data to determine when a child was fully recovered. These cases may have been handled very differently if baseline concussion test results were available. I don’t want to blame the parents because I don’t think it is entirely their fault for not completing the tests before the seasons began. But these examples demonstrate why coaches, athletic staff, and parents need to be educated on the importance of pre-injury baseline concussion testing.   It is our responsibility to share this knowledge with other parents and emphasize the importance of baseline concussion testing so our kids can have the best opportunity to properly recover.

We can all agree concussions are different than other injuries in sports. We need to be more proactive and ensure that our children get baseline tested. The solution is simple – coaches, teams and sports organizations need to step up and place a higher priority on teaching parents about concussions. Concussion policy should not simply be a sheet of paper a parent has to sign at the beginning of each season. Parents need direct education to ensure that they learn this critical information BEFORE the concussion occurs.


Spring Is in the Air

Parent’s Perspective – April Newsletter – Sports Brain

It has been a long, hard, cold winter. Weeks of sub-zero temperatures have kept my family indoors more than usual this winter so as spring approaches the itch to get out and play is stronger than ever.  For my family this means soccer season!  While my older child is at an age and level where he plays soccer year round, there is still an excitement in the air to get outside and play on a “real” field and on “real” grass.

Of course, that brings up the fear of concussions in sports.  With all the media focusing on concussions, a parent can’t help but worry about the dangers their child faces while playing.  Through my work in the concussion arena I’ve learned that concussions are not just a football issue, they are an issue for everyone – in sports and in life.  Over the course of the winter, I heard stories of kids being concussed in hockey, skiing and snowboarding.  Now that spring is here, I am sure I will hear stories of kids being injured in soccer, lacrosse and wiping out on their bikes.

Like most parents, I am excited for my kids to get outside and play but I also worry about them.  I think worry is something that simply comes with the initial delivery of your child, the continual fear for the health and safety of one’s child is natural.  I worry about my kids all the time; I worry about their grades, I worry about their friends, I worry about keeping them safe.  When we send our kids out to play, whether it is on a soccer field or in the back yard, we put them at risk of injury.  Of course, we can’t keep our kids wrapped in bubble wrap for safety and we can’t have them sit on the couch playing video games all day.  The results of overprotection or not engaging in athletic activities is far worse than the normal risk of injury.  Kids need sports to learn valuable life skills such as cooperation, working as a team, overcoming obstacles, winning with grace and losing with dignity.  In addition, they need to be active to keep their bodies healthy and strong.

So what’s a parent to do?  We balance.  Like everything we do in life, we balance the risk and the reward of our kids being active and participating in sports.  I’ll admit it – concussions scare me.  They scare me more than broken legs and broken arms because we can’t see them.  We can’t take an x-ray and put it in a cast to heal.  Many coaches, kids and even other parents don’t worry about concussions for that same reason – a child appears fine, they look fine, so they should go out and get in the game.  To me, this is the scariest part of the entire concussion world – getting back into the game before the brain has properly healed.

I understand and agree that we should not be changing the dynamics of the game.  Whether we are talking about football, basketball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse or any other sport, concussions are going to happen.  Our goal, as parents, should be to protect our kids and make sure they have completely healed before they go back out on the field and are at risk another injury.  You would never send your kid back out to play on a sprained ankle, why would you send him back out to play on a sprained brain?

The first and most important step in this regard is concussion baseline testing.  It takes less than an hour to complete and costs less than most parents pay for their child’s school pictures.  When a child is concussed, the parents and doctor can then effectively determine when a child has recovered.  The brain is not a bone that you can view on an x-ray, you cannot simply look at it and determine it is fixed but a series of cognitive tests can accomplish the same thing as an x-ray.  Simply put, concussion baseline testing is the best thing you can do to protect your child’s brain.

I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single parent who does not agree about the importance of a comprehensive concussion baseline test.  In my conversations, I have never had a parent say they wouldn’t bother or it isn’t worth the time and money.  However, I know that many of those same parents never make the time or effort to complete these simple tests.  When I am hosting a baseline testing event, a significant number of those being tested tend to have a sibling that suffered a concussion and now the parents have first-hand experience of how beneficial it would have been if only they had baseline testing results for their concussed child.  Let those stories be a lesson for all of us, take the time, make the effort and get your children tested.  It’s easy, inexpensive and a great insurance policy should something ever happen.

My kid’s love their sports and I would consider them athletic but their brains are still their greatest assets.