New Rules Tackle Sports Injuries

Two totally unrelated governing bodies have recently acted to address sports injuries among young athletes.

On June 23, 2016, the Erie County (New York) Legislature has passed a local law requiring adults involved in organized youth “contact or collision” sports (coaches/referees) to take an online course on how to recognize concussion symptoms in children. “Contact sports” are defined as those “in which the participants necessarily come into bodily contact with one another.” “Collision sports” are defined as those “where athletes purposely hit or collide with each other or inanimate objects, including the ground, with great force.” Those two covered categories seem to encompass most sports. Though, golf and swimming, it seems, may not be covered.

The law passed by a vote of 10-1. The lone County Legislator to vote against the requirement expressed concern about the amount of time volunteers already spend supporting youth sports programs. The law will be enforceable by the Erie County Health Department through fines on youth sports organizations that cannot document compliance with the training requirement.

On July 12, 2016, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced a change in baseball pitching restrictions to shift the focus from innings limits to pitch counts. Each state will be expected to create its own specific pitch count guidelines, including the amount of rest between appearances. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association has indicated that it expects to vote on new pitch count rules in early 2017.

If you coach or have a child playing baseball, you should take pitch counts seriously at all levels. Some local house leagues even require that all players get a chance to pitch at lower age groups (once you first move beyond tee ball and coach pitch). Little League Baseball has already established pitch count rules based on age. Babe Ruth Cal Ripken Baseball, however, still uses innings restrictions rather than the number of pitches thrown as the default, but allows affiliated leagues to substitute pitch count restrictions during local league games. Whether or not your youth baseball league is affiliated with a national organization, hopefully it has put its own pitch count rules into place. If not, you can refer to PitchSmart guidelines sponsored by Major League Baseball to help you make an informed decision regarding your players.

The pitching restrictions target one particular sport. If you are not involved with baseball, then the pitch count rules will not directly affect you. By contrast, concussions can occur in almost any sport.

Football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling result in the most concussions at the high school level. For girls, soccer produces the most concussions, followed by basketball and gymnastics. The lowest concussion rates occur in swimming. For a more detailed discussion of this frequency data, check out this New York Times blog.

With or without specific rules in play, parents should never feel pressured to put their children at undue risk. Whether with respect to an arm or head injury, it’s better to miss one game than a whole season. More importantly, it’s better to lose a game than to jeopardize physical well-being potentially for the rest of a child’s life.

For coaches and parents looking to be better informed on the critical concussion issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a free HEADS UP Concussion in Youth Sports Training Course.

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