I saw a tweet with a link to an article about a concussion victim with short-term memory loss. George Visger says:
“Coaches need to be more cognizant of when kids get their bells rung…They need to know it’s not OK to put them back in the game. They need to look at new helmets and equipment designs that absorb impact. And we need youth coaches who are trained — people who know what they’re doing and not just telling kids to ‘suck it up’ when they’re hurt.”
After my freshman year of college, I worked a summer camp. It was a fun, recreational camp where the coaches played with the campers.
One day, we played a small flag-football tournament. My team played a team with a really good athlete. He was the star pitcher on his Little League All-Star team at the same time. He went to the camp during the day and played in the District All-Star Tournament at night.
Something happened, and he fell and hit his head hard. He was out for a second and had no recollection of what happened. I was 20 and did not know much, but I guessed that he had a concussion (based on the two concussions that I suffered in my youth). After a few minutes, he said he was fine, and he wanted to play again.
I said no. His coach got mad and said he was playing. I said that he wasn’t playing against my team. His coach was furious and said I was cheating. I said that there were more important things than a pick-up flag football tournament at camp. The coach was fighting mad.
My team and I left the field and went for popsicles. My team remarked about the other coach’s fury – they could not believe how adamant he was about the child playing after the injury.
I went to the camp director and told him that I felt that he should call the boys’ parents. He disagreed. He had the camp nurse (not a real nurse or athletic trainer, but someone hired to administer first aid, fill the water bottles and keep track of attendance) look at him. In her infinite wisdom, he was fine.
Luckily, nothing severe happened. By happenstance, when he reached high school three years later, I was the varsity assistant on the high school basketball team that he was trying to make. He remembered me from the incident. While he thought nothing was really wrong with him, he also remarked about the other coach’s insistence on playing him (he made the J.V. team).
When we talk about the Peak by Friday mentality, this is an extreme example. The coach obviously cared more about winning some game than the player’s health and well-being. While I write about the Peak by Friday mentality in relation to sacrificing the player’s development to focus on winning, the extreme and even more dangerous example is the coach who sacrifices a player’s health to go for the win, whether it is pitching a player too many innings in a day or week or playing a player with a likely concussion.
However, the problems magnify when parents condone the mindset. I was coaching in a tournament, and one of my all-time favorite players went for a lay-up and got cracked on the top of her head. She bit through her tongue and blood was gushing everywhere. Her mom took her to bathroom and cleaned up the mess. Several minutes later, after spraying something to numb the pain on her tongue, she returned to the bench and asked in the game (naturally she was our best player and arguably the best player in her age group at the time). The head coach was not going to player her, but she would not leave us alone. I ran to her father and asked. He said to play her, so she played. Of course, we won the game and everyone talked about her toughness. But was it the best decision for her health? It worked out fine and nothing happened, but should she have returned to action?
We expect professional athletes to play through pain and injury. Should we expect the same of an 11-year-old girl or 7th grade boy? Where do we draw the line between admiring toughness and resiliency and putting a player’s health in jeopardy?
By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League