School contact sports and safety

KWU13-5.jpg

WHILE CONTACT SPORTS REMAIN A CHERISHED PART OF MANY SCHOOLS’ SPORTING TRADITIONS, CHILDREN PARTICIPATING IN THESE KINDS OF SPORTS DO STAND AN INCREASED CHANCE OF SUSTAINING INJURIES.   RUGBY ICON AND RESOLUTION HEALTH AND ZURREAL BRAND REPRESENTATIVE, JEAN DE VILLIERS, WEIGHS IN ON THE RISKS OF CONTACT SPORTS IN SOUTH AFRICA.


An Australian study into the rates of concussion in children aged six to 16 found that organised sports accounted for six times as many severe concussive head injuries than other physical leisure activities. 

According to Jean de Villiers, the issue of head injuries in school sport should not be taken lightly.  “Having played rugby for close on 30 years, I have only been concussed twice. Once was at school when I got a direct blow from a knee to the side of the head and the other as a professional when one of my teammates kicked me on the head by accident.  In both cases I missed two weeks of rugby,” says De Villiers, who is now playing rugby for the Leicester Tigers in England.

Mark Arnold, Principal Officer of Resolution Health, says that physical sports do provide a healthy balance in school life as they serve as an outlet for restless energy, and the strenuous exercise can help many children to improve their focus on their studies. “There are many positive life lessons to be learnt from team sports in particular; however a number of those currently played in South African schools do hold the risk of injuries.”

“While people participating in contact sports could suffer a wide range of injuries, head and spinal cord injuries are of particular concern because they can potentially have profound and lifelong consequences. While adults are able to make informed decisions about the risks they take when participating in contact sports, it is up to parents to weigh up the risk of serious injury with the benefits such sports may offer their children,” he adds.

It has been estimated that the rate of traumatic brain injury in children younger than 16 is around 180 per 100 000, which equates to 0,18%, and most of these are characterised as ‘mild’ 2. When it comes to children, however, any concussion should be considered in a serious light as their brains are still developing.

There are a number of precautions that can be introduced in an attempt to make contact sports safer, but the interventions are not always successful. For example, some studies have suggested that when helmets are introduced as a protective measure in children’s contact sports, the chances of concussive injury increased because the children adopted more risky behaviour in their style of play.

Weighing in on the subject, Debbie Valentini, spokesperson for Zurreal says, “It should also be considered that healthy behaviours, such as regular exercise, are more likely to stick in adult life if they are introduced from a young age, and school sports play an important role in establishing fitness as a lasting lifestyle choice.”

“The efforts of Boksmart in providing safety guidelines for school sport and injury management are to be welcomed, as these can certainly help to mitigate the risks that are a reality of physical sports. We encourage schools to implement pragmatic precautions, and urge parents to remain vigilant and demand that reasonable safety protocols are followed,” Valentini adds. 

“I think that what is being done at the moment to prevent head injuries is fantastic, and the Boksmart system that helps with the treatment of such injuries immediately after they occur is a great starting point. I also think the coaching of better tackling techniques can prevent injuries, as a poor technique resulted in my first concussion,” De Villiers concludes. 

 

References:

  1. Concussive head injury in children and adolescents related to sports and other leisure physical activities (G J Browne and L T Lam, 2005) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492044/
     
  2. Can we manage sport related concussion in children the same as in adults? (P     McCrory, A Collie,, V Anderson and G Davis 2004) http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/38/5/516.full

The best way in which to ensure immediate treatment in the event of head trauma is to ensure that you and your family are covered by a reliable health scheme. If you have yet to sign up for a health scheme, be sure to take a look at the various options from Resolution Health – you are sure to find a plan that suits your budget, and your needs.