Kitchener-Waterloo football league looks to reassure parents about concussions

Once miles apart, youth football officials in Kitchener-Waterloo say football and concussion prevention are now as inseparable as autumn and apple picking.

Players are tested, monitored and when injured, must complete a five-step program to return to play

With the 2016 football season already begun, youth league officials are looking to reassure parents that recent reforms have reduced the risks of traumatic brain injury to players. (Kevin Wolf/Associated Press)

Once miles apart, youth football officials in Kitchener-Waterloo say football and concussion prevention are now as inseparable as autumn and apple picking. 

"It always comes up," Victor DaSilva, the president of the Twin Cities Minor Football League, told Colin Butler on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition. "Usually the parents that have already signed up have done a lot of their own research and have some level of comfort." 

Reading about the potential dangers of football is enough to make any parent uncomfortable with the risks of playing the sport and now minor football officials like DaSilva are seeking to reassure them that the league has invested a lot in making sure players are safe and don't end up with life-altering, or even life-ending brain injuries. 

"Prevention really starts with the helmets we put on their heads," DaSilva said. "Those helmets are re-certified and tested every two years. After 10 years they're expired and we buy knew ones."

Players monitored

DaSilva says the league also uses an equipment manager who's certified to fit them properly so that young players don't fall victim to an injury from a loose or ill-fitting helmet. 

Players are also constantly monitored DaSilva said and each must go through a process called baseline testing before the season begins.
Many youth football leagues have seen participation drop as parents raise concerns about the effect the sport has on kids' still-developing brains. (CBC)

It involves a series of tests of a players' balance and cognitive abilities before they begin play, so that if league officials suspect a concussion, there is a benchmark with which they can make a comparison. 

"Our coaches are trained in concussion awareness and safe contact courses in how to tackle effectively," he said, noting that an athletic therapist is required to be at every practice and every game. 

"They actually have authority over a coach to pull a player," DaSilva said. "Sometimes it happens. If there's an overzealous coach who really wants their star player out there, but if the therapist says they're done or they can't play they're done." 

Most important of all though DaSilva said, is getting parents and players onside. Sometimes it's not the coaches who are overzealous, but a player who doesn't want to disappoint their team mates. 

5-step program before return

"They could hide their own injury," he said. "So we talk to players with the importance of being up front and really we're there to protect them." 

If a player does receive a concussion, DaSilva said they're pulled from the game in order to receive immediate medical attention. 

Once they're cleared by a doctor, they must clear a five-step protocol before they return to the field, starting with light aerobic excercise and working their way up to full contact. 

"Sometimes it's five days, sometimes it's longer," DaSilva said, noting each player with a head injury is carefully monitored. "They'll have to be returned back to stage one if they have any recurring symptoms."

"Its better to rematerialize during light aerobic exercise before or light contact before they get back to that full contact," he said.