Summary on Ice Hockey Concussion Summit: What You Need to Know!

25 10 2010

Last week I attended the first-ever Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion. The program was impressive and invited speakers in included NHL referee and players, coaches, neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, brain physiologists, sport scientists, coach educators, helmet engineers and manufacturers, biomechanists, researchers, clinical psychologists, athletic trainers, sports medicine and family practice doctors, and representatives from the International Ice Hockey Federation, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada.

The New York Times wrote two pieces on the summit which are informative (click here and here).

Here are a few of the important messages that everyone should know about concussions.

  • A concussion is a traumatic brain injury and should be treated and taken seriously. The CDC has a host of wonderful and free materials about concussions that can be accessed here, including specific information about sports concussions.
  • Mouth guards do NOT protect athletes from concussions. Helmets protect from linear focal point hits, but don’t protect from concussions (which primarily are sustained from rotational and linear forces) as well as we think they do.
  • All sport stakeholders should be educated about the signs and symptoms associated with concussions. Concussions in children and youth is a serious issue because the brain is still developing and therefore more vulnerable to lasting concussive side effects (15% of children do not fully recover from concussions).
  • If an athlete is suspected of having a concussion, he/she should NOT Return To Play (RTP) in that game or that day. Period. “When in Doubt, Sit Them Out!
  • The decision for Return To Play  should only be given by a trained medical professional, not by coaches, parents or placed in the hands of the athlete. RTP is a medical decision. Both physical and cognitive rest are needed following a concussion. Even when an athlete is asymptomatic, the brain is still recovering. Returning to play too early places the athlete at greater risk for another concussion, potentially long lasting side effects, and increases the likelihood of a full recovery.
  • A concussed brain is a metabolic crisis which creates a “chemical soup” that bathes the brain. Metabolic recovery of the brain Lags behind 30-45 days symptomatic resolution. What this means is that even when an athlete shows no signs of concussion and is physically recovered, the brain is still healing.
  • Multiple brain injuries, like repetitive concussions, places the individual at greater risk for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)–an emerging disorder that was frightening to hear about. For more about CTE and the work of Dr. Ann McKee and colleagues at Boston University School of Medicine click here,
  • A cultural and behavioral shift needs to occur in hockey to help reduce the incidence of concussions and protect athletes. The belief  that brutal hits and fights are entertaining, especially in professional hockey, creates an environment in which illegal should-to- head hits are tolerated, not penalized, and fights are allowed to continue (18% of concussions happen during fights). This belief in turn trickles down to the youth level, where such behaviors are learned, valued, and taught. Evidence that behavior around illegal and dangerous behaviors can be changed as the Hockey Education Program in Minnesota has shown with the implementation of the Fair Play Point system.
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How is the only high school female football coach doing?

14 09 2010

Last May there was a lot of media coverage about Natalie Randolph, who was hired as the Head Football Coach for Coolidge High School in Washington DC. This fall she and her team are back in the media as the team’s results are being scrutinized. Currently the team is 0-3. My point is not to highlight the team’s record, but to highlight that THIS team’s record is getting national media attention where the many other football teams across the country which are also 0-3 are not.

Coach Natalie Randolph

Randolph should be celebrated, not scrutinized. While her on field results in terms of W/L record is a losing one, there are other outcomes that should be considered, but are often overlooked:

1. Her presence may allow females who love the game to consider playing and coaching football as a viable option. Many girls and women love football just as much as men, but given they 0ften are discouraged or aren’t allowed to play when they desire to, the pathway to playing and coaching the game they love contains many barriers.

2. I’m certain seeing and experiencing a female football coach has provided the opportunity for the young men on her team (and community members) to challenge the stereotypes some likely have about women, leadership, coaching and football.

3. From her interviews and feedback of those familiar with the program, it sounds like she is teaching her team both football and life skills simultaneously , and that is all that we can hope for and ask of any high school coach.

Women coach boys must possess a high degree of athletic capital to coach football or male athletes in general. In fact only 2% of all coaches of male athletes are female, a statistic that has remained remarkably stable even 38 years after Title IX which drastically increased the number female sport participants and the sport expertise of females. Randolph possesses a great deal of athletic capital as a former D-I athlete, professional football player in the WPFL, and assistant high school football coach–experiences which afforded her the opportunity and consideration for the job.  While men are assumed to be competent coaches even if they have never really played the sport, female coaches must continually prove themselves competent above and beyond their male colleagues. It is unlikely a female who never played football would never be hired to coach, but there are many men who have been hired to coach a sport they never played or didn’t play at a high level.

The interesting issue to me in the media coverage of Randolph’s coaching debut is the implicit assumption that effective football coaching resides on the Y-chromosome. No where in the coaching science literature have I read this, but it is a common belief nonetheless. If this assumption is true, then there must be quite a few male football coaches missing the Y-chromosome because their teams have losing records too! While I doubt the  floodgates for women to coach football are going to burst open wide, I hope Randolph’s presence will help challenge and change some outdated thinking patterns.





More Thoughts on Equal Playing Time in Youth Sports

10 08 2010

Thank you for everyone who weighed in and took the time to provide insight and opinions on equal playing time in youth sports for a previous blog. It is clear playing time is a pressing issue across all sectors of youth sport and parents, coaches, and administrators alike are struggling to make informed decisions.

Existing and emerging evidence from child development, pediatric sports medicine, sport psychology, sport sociology, and moral development seems to point to the idea that equal playing time is imperative for children up to age 12 (and some would argue age 14).

From my observations and interactions with youth sport stakeholders the debate over playing time starts with differing views on the purpose of youth sport and the tension between winning/being competitive and athlete development/fun/enjoyment. I reject the notion that winning, athlete development and fun/enjoyment can’t simultaneously be achieved. This dichotomous thinking is part of the problem in organized youth sport.

Adults who run, organize, and coach youth sport consider many factors when making decisions about playing time and arguably factors change in weight as the child gets older. The graphic in Figure 1:  Playing Time Considerations illustrate this complexity.

I’ve outlined EFFORT in red as this is one of the few factors that a child can control. Giving full effort in practice and games regardless of the situation is a very important life lesson that can be taught and learned through participation in sport.

A father in a recent sport parent workshop asked me about the danger of “teaching children to be  mediocre” by awarding equal playing time. His point was that a child who didn’t work hard or give full effort would automatically be awarded the same playing time as a child who was working hard, and that if playing time weren’t used as “the carrot” (i.e., you work hard, you get to play) that kids wouldn’t work hard. It was a good question.

To answer his question used evidence and borrowed some wisdom from my colleague Clark Power, Ph.D., a scholar in moral development and Director of the Play Like a Champion Educational Series at the University of Notre Dame. Power argues playing time is not a reward for displaying virtue, it is a means for developing virtue. I also pointed out the carrot approach is a problematic way of using playing time. First, children need to be taught that working hard is an inherent part of sports, skill development, and life. Children should want to work hard because it is inherently enjoyable, as hard work can lead to improvement, satisfaction, sense of self worth, accomplishment, and many more positive outcomes. These intrinsic motives for giving full effort will lead to a much greater likelihood of long term participation than using playing time as an extrinsic reward that can be taken away or awarded by adults.

Second, up until age 10-11, developmentally children cannot discern between effort and ability. They equate effort with being good at something. Therefore, under an unequal playing time system a child who gives full effort but does not get to play, is likely to think he is not good at that sport. Based on evidence in sport psychology, perception of competence is one of the biggest predictors of enjoyment and sustained participation. The take home message here:  a child who believes he is incompetent because he is sitting on the bench even thought he believes he’s given effort in practices, will be much more likely to drop out. If he drops out before he can understand cognitively that effort and ability are not always the same, and that effort is a virtue, then he will not reap the developmental and health benefits which can be accrued through sport participation.

A great deal more evidence than what I’ve presented here exists in support of an “equal playing time through age 12” youth sport policy, but this is an evidence-based food for thought starting point for youth sport stakeholders to consider. For more information on youth sports visit the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.





“Not Everything is Found on the Y-Chromosome”

24 05 2010

The 5th IWG World Conference on Women in Sport in Sydney has now drawn to a close. The 6th World Conference will be held in Helsinki, Finland in 2014. It was edifying and energizing to meet so many great women, and men, who care deeply about girls and women in sport and to learn about how they are all making a difference in their own ways. One person really can make a difference. The legacy of the conference is the Sydney Scoreboard, which will track the percentage of women in positions of power in sport leadership across the globe (national sport organizations, presidents, CEOs). One message was clear throughout the conference, women are under represented in all position of power in all sports in all countries–we have much work yet to do. This conference helped me to think more deeply and clearly about how the empowerment of women and striving for women in positions of power is a human rights issue. When women help lead a nation or organization, everyone benefits.

Ms. Rachel Mayanja

The International Working Group on Women in Sport (IWG) has begun to build a relationship with the United Nations (UN), to help forward the IWG mission and agenda. The United Nations has a number of groups, resources, and initiatives that have great synergy with the IWG including, The UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), and WomenWatch (information and resources about gender equality and the empowerment of women). The UN also has a Commission on the Status of Women which is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Rachel Mayanja (Uganda), UN Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI), delivered the opening keynote of the IWG Congress. In her speech she stated: Women’s and girls’ access to and participation in sport is not a privilege. It is a right. The right to participate in sport and physical activity is enshrined in Article 1 of the UNESCO International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, for example, which states that ‘The practice of physical education and sport is a fundamental right for all’.

From this picture, it is clear that MORE can potentially be found on the X-chromosome!

The conference ended with a keynote by The Hon Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, which was fantastic. He told of how as a boy in 1949 he’d read a the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which shaped his life trajectory. He told us that document existed due to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt who chaired the committee which drafted the original document that was later adopted by the UN. He stated this is an example that if you want important work to be done, a woman has to be in charge. Kirby also said his colleague Mary Gordon used to tell him, “that not all is found on the Y-chromosome”.

This is a great statement, and until everyone believes and acts in ways that reflect this statement we have work to be done. I am re-energized and committed to continue my work on increasing the number of female coaches in youth sport so that children and youth see women in a position of power in a context they care deeply about. I believe if we are to change attitudes about gender stereotypes and women and leadership we need to have equal numbers (50%) of women as head coaches. To that end and taking up the idea of the Sydney Scoreboard, upon my return I will begin to work with youth sport boards and youth sport organizations to implement policy that requires/mandates that 50% of all coaches are female (currently according to data I have collected in youth soccer, only about 17% of all head coaches are female), and that at least 40% of all board positions are occupied by females.





Mothers’ Influence on Active Lives

10 05 2010

We need to see more of this!

In light of Mother’s Day 2010 I have a few thoughts about mothers’ influence on the active lives of their daughters. First of all, I have the BEST mother in the world and I would not be the woman I am today without her. I love you mom!

Here are some research-based facts about moms. daughters, and physical activity (PA):

  • If mom values and supports physical activity, daughters are more likely to be active. More importantly if a daughter perceives mom values and supports PA ( even if she doesn’t!) this is predictive of increased PA
  • If daughter also perceives mom believes that she is good at sport, she is more likely to participate in sport and not drop out
  • If mom is active, daughter is more likely to be active in her youth, adolescence and into adulthood
  • PA is a positive, enjoyable, and healthy thing mothers and daughters can do together
  • Moms are needed in a variety of active, visible role models in PA contexts, especially in positions of power such as coach, youth sport league administrator, club president, athletic director, and referee. When we SEE women in positions of power it helps challenge outdated gender stereotypes about leadership. Less than ~15% of all positions of power in youth sport are held by women. We can do better!
  • Mother skills are transferable to coaching!! And mothers who coach say that their role as coach enhances their roles as mother and worker (for those women who work outside the home)
  • Moms should encourage their daughters to volunteer as coaches, referees, and to find a way to give back to the physical activities they love
  • Moms need to encourage both their sons and daughters equally to participate in sports
  • Most importantly, moms should unconditionally care about their children regardless of the score.

Happy Mother’s Day.





More on Gender Difference and Coaching

26 04 2010

I recently was called by a reporter who was writing a story on gender differences and coaching. I’m posting the link to his story here, as he did a nice job representing the current debate and ongoing discussion about coaching girls and coaching boys .

Stay tuned for more research-based information this topic coming soon!





Did You Know? Videos: Hot Topics in Coaching

15 04 2010

I put together a few Did You Know? powerpoints and turned them into short videos (1:22-1:34 in length).

One is about the scarcity of female coaches in youth sport and the other is about gender differences & similarities in coaching.

I’d love your feedback as this is a bit a work in progress. Here is what I’d like feedback on:

  • Content
  • Length
  • How could these best be used?
  • What other topics would you like to see in a DYK?
  • Any other feedback you feel is relevant.

Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

(thanks to Austin Stair Calhoun for overlaying the cool music!)